Jazz has been an influence in many artist’s work, from painting to other formsof music. Jazz is an American music form that was developed fromAfrican-American work songs. The white man began to imitate them in the 1920’sand the music form caught on and became very popular. Two artists that wereinfluenced by jazz were Jean-Michel Basquiat and Stuart Davis. The influence isquite evident in many of their works, such as Horn Players, by Basquiat, andSwing Landscape, by Davis. Stuart Davis was born in Philadelphia in 1894.
Hegrew up in an artistic environment, his father was art director of aPhiladelphia newspaper, who had employed Luks, Glackens, and other members ofthe Eight. He studied with Robert Henri from 1910 to 1913, made covers anddrawings for the social realist periodical The Masses, which was associated withthe Ash-can School, and exhibited watercolors in the Armory Show, which made anoverwhelming impact on him. After a visit to Paris in 1928 he introduced a newnote into U.S. cubism, basing himself on its synthetic rather than itsanalytical phase.
Using natural forms, particularly forms suggesting thecharacteristic environment of American life, he rearranged them into flatposter-like patterns with precise outlines and sharply contrasting colors. Helater went on to pure abstract patterns, into which he often introducedlettering, suggestions of advertisements, and posters. The zest and dynamism ofsuch works as Swing Landscape reflect his interest in jazz, which Davisconsidered to be the counterpart to abstract art. Davis is often considered tobe the outstanding American artist to work in a cubism idiom. He made witty andoriginal use of it and created a distinctive American style, for howeverabstract his works became he always claimed that every image he used had itssource in observed reality. Davis once said ” I paint what I see inAmerica, in other words I paint the American scene.” Stuart Davis’ works ofthe late 1930’s celebrate the urban and technological environment and are quitecomplex and frequently recall Legers’s brightly coloured geometric forms. Earlyworks depict saloons and ragtime musicians. Titles and images of his works inthe 30’s reflect syncopation and unusual rhythm of jazz, particularly swing .
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960, four years before Stuart Davis’ death. Atan early age Basquiat showed an interest and love for drawing. His mother oftentook him to The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The MetropolitanMuseum of Art. At the age of seven he and a friend of his wrote and illustrateda children’s book. Basquiat was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock films, cars, comicbooks, and Alfred E. Newman from Mad Magazine. By the time he was seven he wasan avid reader of French, Spanish, and English texts. In his teenage yearsBasquiat ran away from home often. He did not like obedience. By 1978 he was inwith the “in crowd.” The filmmakers and artists of New York. Heenjoyed doing graffiti work using the name SAMO ( same old *censored* ).
Basquiat’s career was divided into three broad phases. From 1980 to 1982 he usedpainterly gestures, mostly skeletal figures that signal his obsession withmortality. He also used figures that represent street existence, such aspoliceman, buildings, and graffiti. From 1982 to 1985 he was using more phrasesand words in his paintings. They reveal a strong interest in his black andhispanic identity and his identification with historical and contemporary blackfigures and events. The last phase was from 1986 until his death in 1988. Hiswork displays a new type of figurative depiction, using different symbols,sources, and content. He was seeking a new territory in his work. WhenBasquiat’s Horn Players and Davis’ Swing Landscape are displayed side by side itis quite obvious that they were done by two different artist. In Swing Landscapeit is not obvious that this piece was inspired by jazz, as where in Horn Playersthe influence of jazz is evident. These painters have two completely differentstyles but are inspired by the same types of things. They are inspired bysociety and music. They both appreciate the art value of music, especially jazz.
Stuart Davis’ Swing Landscape is quite colorful and vibrant. The colors give afeeling of jazz with the use of blues and cool colors. The use of the warmcolors shows the unpredictability of jazz. There are many forms of geometricshapes used in this painting. The shapes used in this painting again show theunpredictability of jazz, as well as the vibrancy of that music form. There arenot a lot of distinguishing symbols of jazz in the painting, except for maybe apair of sunglasses and a metronome in the bottom left corner. This paintingrepresents the feeling of jazz, even though it is not evident at first glance.
It definitely is a painting that needs to be studied for a while. The fact thatthe music is incredibly vibrant and unpredictable is quite noticeable. I canenvision Stuart Davis listening to jazz and swing while painting this. You cansee the notes within the painting. If you listen real carefully you can hear themusic. I find Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Horn Players to be more of a representationof the people behind the music. Basquiat’s painting has some color in it, but isnot vibrant. The colors almost show the dark and troubled side of jazz. He usesa lot of words and symbols. It shows his hero Charlie Parker, which is evidentby the use of the word “Ornithology”, a composition by the greatCharlie Parker and his colleague in modern jazz, Dizzy Gillespie. Both of theirnames show up in the painting. The word ear reminds us that jazz is fromaural/oral roots, more improvised than written down. The word larynx is in honorof the ability to play full-throated. The painting also praises memorablescatting with the words ooh shoo de obee. An art historian once suggested thatthe symbol soap alludes to being “clean” in black argot, being, inother words, aesthetically impeccable. Basquiat was very involved in his owncelebration of the black man and this is one of those paintings. There aresimilarities between Swing Landscape and Horn Players even though they are verydifferent pieces. With two different styles the artists are able to show theviewer the values of jazz. They both appreciate the variance of the music formjazz. A love for jazz, by the artist, can be seen in both paintings.
BibliographyMarshall, Richard. Jean-Michel Basquiat. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992.
Wasserman, Emily. The American Scene – Early Twentieth Century. New York:Jupiter Art Library, 1984.
Music and Musicians
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