The art piece Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis was created in 1932. Stuart Davis moved to New York from New Jersey and joined the art world during the time of a revolutionary changes in modern painting of America. (De Mille, 2011)It was the period of urban migration, which found its reflection in challenging the academic painting rules. Unique vision of the artist and his experiences were deeply influenced by music halls of New York. Jazz, unique American form of music was Stuart Davis’ main inspiration. His paintings expressed this new emotion sweeping across America as he translated the visual imagery of New York City and the jazz music of the mid-20thcentury into abstract art.(De Mille, 2011)
Swing Landscape has formal content. Lines are dominant in the painting, they quickly grab viewer’s attention. A good sense of balance is demonstrated by the artist since all the objects are evenly spread throughout the picture. Color is another dominant aspect. The artist used a variety of colors that blend together well and make the art piece look exuberant. A formalist perspective would deem both of these artworks as significant because of the way they are arranged (Stokes, 1991). The individual pieces of the artwork fit together nicely, which promotes a positive response from the viewer. Abstract objects in Swing Landscape are randomly placed into the painting, yet they seem to fit perfectly in place. The viewer's initial response to this painting is positive simply because of the fact that all of the pieces flow together very well.
Another important theory to consider is the expressionist perspective. The artwork has the capacity to evoke certain feelings or moods from the viewer (Stokes, 1991). Swing Landscape, gives a viewer the feeling of happiness and joy. The pop lifestyle is conveyed nicely by Davis. His goal was to capture the emotions evoked by jazz and swing music and to translate them to visual means. The viewer gets positive emotions through bright objects and soft lines.
Davis is considered to be the father of the pop art movement. His life encompassed the entire span of American modern art as he grew up among artists. Using a form of Cubism, Davis helped to shape the Modernism movement in America, especially with the release of Swing Landscape.
Jazz music, which is known due to its improvisations and rhythmic energy, influenced Davis' artistic style. It brought vibrant colors, lively composition and abstracted forms to the American landscapes. The artist believed that his main responsibility was to serve the society through his art. Nowadays, Davis’ art is famous for reflecting the culture and experience of America of the Great Depression period.
The Federal Arts Project (FAP) gave a chance to earn their living and, thus, to survive, to many artists and musicians during the Great Depression in America. Some of the artworks commissioned are still available to public in civic buildings across the U.S. like libraries, post offices, and others. The main importance of these art pieces was reached with the themes that reflected the values, themes and subjects of the American society of swing era. .(De Mille, 2011)
Swing Landscape was first commissioned by the FAP for the Williamsburg Housing Project in Brooklyn. But it was never exhibited there, in New York. This mural became a synthesis of expressive colors and forms, it combined space and flatness, demonstrated a vivid mixture of realism and abstraction. It was sold to the Indiana University Art Museum, where it found home. The painting is now known as "the most important painting by an American artist in the 1930s." Swing Landscape is very important in American art history because it was the first one to challenge “ the stylistic sensibilities of this public art initiative”. (De Mille, 2011)
The painting was probably rejected by the FAP due to its experimental characteristics. The daring mixture of contrasting colors and the fracturing of space and form into a chaos, which is carefully controlled by the artist though. Swing Landscape became the epitome of “ the dynamic excitement of urban life”, which is disorienting and even aggressive for some viewers. The painting was inspired by Davis' love of billboards and other large-scale advertising.(De Mille, 2011)
Stuart Davis transformed the quaint waterfront of Gloucester, in Massachusetts, into a landscape, which is bold and vibrant mural. In Swing Landscape billboards and swing music inspired the artist to a new art form, which translated jazz notes to rhythmic patterning, vivid hues and floating abstract shapes. S. Davis combines the flat bright color shapes often used in cubism with the rhythms, textures and syncopations of jazz. The riot of forms and colors takes the attention of the viewer away from the composition. (Stokes, 1991). Swing Landscape challenges the viewer by shattering and reassembling the usual realities of the world from multiple perspectives. The sense of depth of the viewer is confused by almost completely abstracted forms and images, which still can be recognized on the closer view. The waterfront is pictures by the juxtaposition of sails, masts, and girders. They gyrate back and forth according to the rhythm of swing.
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Davis used colors, lines, and curves to reflect entry of the "swing sensibility" to the traditions of American landscaping. He reachedthe effect of the landscape “floating free” from the background (Stokes, 1991). Abstract representations of the jazz influenced American culture since removed importance of the race from the picture . Earlier realistic portraits of the urban African-American musicians where replaced with "whitening" of jazz. Swing music knew no race since it was successfully played by both white and black musicians.
Davis managed to blend saturated shades of pink, orange and magenta and hot dancing shapes to form the lively image of jazz. He never used such colors before or after Swing Landscape. It was, Stuart Davis, who successfully made American Cubism different from French traditions by implementing English words and American product logos in his paintings. His hard-edged shapes and lively colors, dashes, stripes and circles are all logically connected into brilliant sample of abstract painting.