Page 22

) Doodles and Diagrams:

the collision of art and comics

in 20th century American culture

“…the style is lowly and humble, because it is the vulgar tongue, in which even housewives speak.” Dante, letter explaining why the Divine Comedy was written in Italian rather than Latin to his patron, Can Grande della Scala of Verona

By John Carlin*

In the early part of the 20th century Stuart Davis was an American in Paris soaking up avant-garde art. He was already an established illustrator in the groundbreaking magazine The Masses. Davis’ father had been a newspaper editor in Philadelphia who employed a number of artists who would become known as the Ash Can School to enlivened the paper with illustrations. Davis followed these artists to New York to study with Robert Henri, the leader of the group and work with John Sloan, one of the main illustrators in The Masses. But Davis become frustrated by the Ash Can approach to image-making after

STUART DAVIS Hot Still-Scape for Six-Colors-Seveth Avenue Style, 1940


participating in the groundbreaking Armory Show in 1913 (funded in part by Mabel Dodge, whose money was also behind The Masses). Much of the vanguard art in the Armory Show was being made in Paris and the contrast made American art seem out of touch with the dynamic qualities of modern life. So Davis picked up and moved overseas to study and eventually produce what he called “colonial cubism.” However, he produced something very different from the Europeans who inspired him; something that prefigured American art of the late 20th century to a remarkable degree. Davis was among the first to incorporate media imagery in his work as opposed to industrial products. Marcel Duchamp, the leading vanguard artist of the time, transformed snow shovels, bottle racks and urinals into art objects; and Pablo Picasso made innovative spatial arrangements around ordinary objects such as guitars, tables, wine bottles, and newspapers. Davis did that as well, producing an interesting series of paintings that deconstructed the optical image of an eggbeater, for example. But he also did something else. His painting Lucky Strike from 1924 is one of the earliest examples of appropriating comic strip imagery into art, predating Pop Art by over thirty-five years. In fact, the title can be read as a declaration of Davis’ prescience as well as the brand of tobacco whose beautiful industrial packaging is depicted in the painting along with a pipe and a pack of rolling papers in the style of Cubistic collages. What makes the painting a lucky strike in terms of artistic achievement is the other object in the painting -a large newspaper page showcasing a sports cartoon by TAD, who was a mentor of George Herriman, one of the greatest comic strip artists of all time. The TAD cartoon is painted flat, parallel to the picture plane, more like an outright appropriation than a physical object whose sense of volume and mass is represented by the cubistic reorganization of space. It is an artistic image repeated in another artistic image, raising conceptual issues

Profile for ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestion SL