Gene Davis, a painter associated with the Washington Color Painters, is a self-taught artist whose early work represents several phases of experimentation, including abstract expressionism, neodada and proto-pop.
Davis was born in Washington, D.C. in 1920. He spent most of his adult life in that city: until the late 1950's Davis was a journalist, serving as a White House correspondent and a sportswriter.
His involvement with art began early in the 1950s when he visited the Washington Workshop and worked with Jacob Kainen, whom he regards as his guide and mentor.
During his experiments of the 1950s, Davis produced irregularly shaped masonite panels and panels embedded with rocks and gravel. One work featured a "Peanuts" comic strip covered with blue and white stripes. Davis is perhaps best known for his edge-to-edge paintings of vertical stripes, which he first began to produce in 1958. That first stripe painting, considered at the time a maverick work, was approximately 12 by 8 inches, with straight yellow, pink and violet stripes, of uneven width, but alternating with regularity.
From this prototype, Davis has continued to paint variations of different sizes. His micro-paintings of the mid 1960s were no more than two inches square, and were commonly grouped together on one wall. More often, Davis chooses a large canvas or mural, such as South Mall Project for the New York State Capitol, executed in 1969.
In the larger paintings, Davis uses placement and pattern of stripes to create complex rhythms and sequences of colors. The stripes themselves vary in width from one-half inch to eight inches.
Davis considers the vertical stripe as a vehicle for color that follows no preexisting chromatic scale. By varying the hue and intensity of the stripes, Davis creates a sense of a figure on a ground, as in Red Screamer (1968, Des Moines Art Center).
Of the stripes, he has written, "There is no simpler way to divide a canvas than with straight lines at equal intervals. This enables the viewer to forget the structure and see the color itself."
Davis has taught at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and at various other institutions.
Between 1972 and 1982, he undertook a number of in situ projects, adapting his characteristic lines to specific locales: his stripes took form on the street in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the front windows of the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington, on the walls of the Corcoran Gallery Rotunda, on the ground of the parking lot at Artpark in Lewiston, New York, and even became colored tubes of water for the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 1970 the artist also experimented with video art.
A keen draughtsman, the artist occasionally incorporated drawings into his paintings, as well as other collage elements, such as popular imagery. Davis began working in this mode in 1958, largely abandoning it in the ensuing decades to concentrate on painting, only to return to it in the 1980s in suites of works known as “Symbols” and “Profiles.” In his “Symbols” series, he included visual fragments from mass-media newspapers and magazines. Characteristic of the “Profiles” are silhouetted busts, in large and small dimensions, some rendered in stripes, others drawn in a child-like, whimsical hand. In 1983 Davis work was exhibited alongside children’s artwork in the traveling exhibition, “Child and Man: A Collaboration.” In 1985 Davis died of a heart attack in Washington, D.C