As jazz musicians play by ear, Gene Davis described his painting approach as “playing by eye”. Hailing from Washington, DC, he was a prime figure of 20th century American painting, especially the Washington Color School. Davis’ heavily striped paintings, though seemingly carefully calculated, spring from his spontaneity.
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Before becoming a full-time artist, Davis took abstract painting as a hobby and even had his early works featured in some local exhibits. After he ended his career as a sportswriter and a White House correspondent, he did the outrageous and the unexpected: make a livelihood out of painting. Following his 35 years working as a journalist, he transitioned on to become a full-time painter.
Having a passion for the arts without the benefit of formal education gave him the freedom to explore different movements until he found his own style. His play with color and stripes takes after the works of notable artists in the mold of American abstractionist Arshile Gorky and Swiss painter Paul Klee. He described his discovery of Barnett Newman as “only taking what I needed,” as he was attracted to the vertical stripes and not the color fields, which were in reality Newman’s emphasis.
Although Davis did not attend art school, he did not perceive it as a disadvantage. He instead believed it freed him from the traditional art school’s orientation. Formed differently from those who attended art school, he fearlessly explored different media to complement his paintings, using different surfaces and incorporating objects into his composition.
Gene Davis was an art renegade overflowing with spontaneity. He found rhythm in painting his stripes; following them was him playing by eye.
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