Friday, November 18, 2016

The Jazz Painter

Stuart Davis may never have performed an instrument as a jazz musician,  but he could certainly improvise - do a few riffs - on cardboard and canvas. The National Gallery of Art is celebrating this ultra American artist  ("Stuart Davis: In Full Swing" with a large exhibition beginning Sunday November 13) exploring his work after 1921  drawn from 50 different sources - a fully realized show tracking his influences and output through three decades.
 (The image to the left is typical - albeit the work of a culinary artist who provided small edible cookies at the press preview - an exact replica,  a digital photo copy, minus the frosty sugar frame of his "OWH! In Sao Pao, 1951" on loan from New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. Notice the bright yellow background, the play of words - inverted for the title - and sense of energy and joy.)
Oddly enough, I haven't found many of my contemporaries who are familiar with him but I would encourage everyone to go who feels a sense of impending gloom  whether caused by external or internal revel in the profusion of color and style. It was partly to be provocative that I asked NGA curator Harry Cooper if my embrace of Davis made me a 'lowbrow.'  He answered easily, diplomatically, enough: "low and high" at once.  Wash Post critic/commentator Philip Kennicott goes to great lengths to tell just how complicated the man and his art really are. A complicated review in which he seems to see contradictions - the most basic of course could be the complete contrast between sight and sound - the 'music' of paint vs notes played for the ear. PK is not entirely a fan.
Still it's possible to delight in the contrast - how Davis 'riffs,' thrills to variations of form and mood. The result produces unique sensations, worth many ruminations. Put on some Earl Hines (closed circuit audio) while viewing the show.

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