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collections > permanent collection > paintings >GENE DAVIS
Gene Davis
(American, 1920-1985)
20 Fathoms/Sky,  1976
Oil on canvas, 33 1/2" x 38 1/2"
Anonymous gift (99.173)


Gene Davis was a member of the Washington Color School painters, a group of abstract artists working in the Washington, D.C. area during the 1960s.  His best known canvases consist of vertical arrangements of colored stripes, through which he attempted to convey feeling and mood.  Unlike the intellectualized and strictly formal stripe paintings of Barnett Newman (an early influence on Davis), paintings such as 20 Fathoms / Sky seek to evoke an emotional response from the viewer.  Although earlier works were often monumental in scale, 20 Fathoms / Sky and other paintings of the 1970s were smaller as a result of Davis’ conviction that working large was a dishonest ploy to give his compositions a powerful presence.


Davis was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he commenced his career as a reporter for local newspapers.  He began painting as a hobby around 1949, and during the 1950s he gained a reputation for his Abstract Expressionist work.  By the end of the decade, Davis had grown dissatisfied with painterly abstraction in the Jackson Pollock vein, and so he turned to more hard-edged and formal compositions.  In these early stripe paintings, he avoided emotional content, but later embraced it.  As the artist progressed from formalism to a kind of formal expressionism during the 1960s, he experimented with different, apparently chaotic combinations of stripes and colors. This approach gave his work a vibrant quality that sets it apart from the cerebral meditations of Minimalism and Op Art.