MY DAILY PIC (#1598): I came away from the wonderful Stuart Davis retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York convinced that he was one of the most important, most influential artists in 20th-century
America. The reason we can’t quite recognize his excellence is that
history is always written by the winners, and Davis lost out to a rival
Looking back from today’s vantage point, we cherish
everything in American art that has been difficult, conceptual,
anti-esthetic, tough and unsparing. Those were the neo-Dada values that
began to win out in the early 1960s and have remained in ascendance ever
since – and that I have to admit I often buy into.
represented different tendencies that we’ve mostly lost track of but
that mattered hugely in his own time. His art was all about inventing
and perfecting a seamlessly coherent modern style, about embracing
illustration and delight, about celebration rather than critique.
looking at Davis’s work, we need to remember that modernism once felt
like it was starting from an absolute tabula rasa. This meant that
turning it into a comprehensible, useable language felt like a greater
achievement than celebrating its innate disjunctions and aporias (sorry
for the term of art), which is what we tend to do now. Davis created
just such a language, however facile and light it may seem to us. Stylishness,
so derided today, was a real achievement when modern art had left you
at style degree zero, as it seemed for Stuart and his contemporaries.
then there was the utopian side to modernist image-making, especially
for a dedicated lefty like Davis. It meant that creating a style that
spoke easily to a wide audience also registered as an achievement –
especially when that style was strikingly modern, rather than steeped in
reaction a la Norman Rockwell. The overlaps between Davis’s
fine art and the work of popular “illustrators” such as Saul Steinberg would have registered as a definite plus, not a
minus, as he worked to bring modern experiments down to earth. Ditto for
his use of motifs borrowed from pop culture – in today’s Daily Pic,
it’s the Champion spark-plug. When he first launched into such
borrowings, they would have felt like a truly populist gesture that was
also avant-garde. That combination was an ideal that few other artists
I am no novice
Of those elaborate rituals
Of Dionysian savagery
And Plutarchian sacrifice.
I am no innocent.
I am still plucking deer bones from my teeth
And unsowing the sorrow
That has festered beneath my skin.
It was a night much like this one
The sky, as dark and wretched
As the river Styx.
We drowned in that darkness.
It rose up around us and crawled into our throats.
Sweet moonlight drifted
Like pockets of salvation.
We inhaled it like oxygen
Into our aching lungs.
But we were already sanctified
By the unholy trees
That swayed lithely
In the chill of the night.
Come to great us.
Pan must have been near
For I felt the unsteady tremble of the earth
As it waited for its king.
Wild, raw, and inexorable in its passions.
It was just as nature should be,
And we trembled in want
Of such absolution.
So we bowed,
Like long-lost gods
Cast down from Olympus’s perilous heights.
It was too impure there
To separate from this wholeness
From the unadulterated power of the earth.
In a world like Lethe
We dipped out hands
Into the sky and painted:
Onto the nape of our necks.
Until we forgot the curse of falling.
Threw off our mortal coils
And we became gods once again.
“What We Forgot in the Dark”, Bianca Braswell
Inspired by @metvmorqhoses. Her blog is straight fire tho. It will change you.