By Thomas Smith,
Director of the Petrie Institute of Western American Art
at the Denver Art Museum
Last evening, (May 17th) I participated in the final lecture of the Clyfford Still Museum’s Western Roots series and discussed how the American West physical or experienced might have affected abstract expressionists. After wrapping up my lecture I fielded questions for nearly a half hour (it only felt like 5 minutes!) and was delighted with the astute questions from a very curious audience. It reminded me of how fortunate we are to have such a dynamic and enthused art community in Denver.
After the lecture and questions had concluded someone from the audience asked me what seemed like a very simple question— of all the artists I discussed tonight which one was my favorite? Simply enough, right…. As I began to make a list in my head of all the artists I had discussed, I just couldn’t answer. Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Thomas Hart Benton, Frederic Remington, Maynard Dixon, Richard Diebenkorn, and lastly Raymond Jonson had all appeared in the lecture. I mean, just choose one…any one… you can’t make a wrong choice …they are America’s greatest painters….it is your favorite. I simply couldn’t. Ultimately I just commented that they were all really great.
Later in the evening I kept thinking about what should have been a simple question. Another thought entered my mind….I wish she would have asked, “who is your favorite artist you didn’t discuss?” That I could answer! Well I could at least narrow it down to two….
Two of my favorite artists that I didn’t discuss are Robert Henri and Stuart Davis. Henri was Nebraska born and grew up in Denver which people don’t often know. Henri is an artist to admire. He was a fighter and a maverick who challenged the conservative American art academies. Before the Armory Show of 1913, Henri was as powerful as any modern American painter of his time. Stuart Davis, had no significant connection to the American West with the exception of a few months he spent in New Mexico is the 1920’s. His work is also undeniably American but it is a view that is rooted in his metropolitan home of New York. But, boy do I love it! In fact if I had to choose one American painter…only one…it “might” be Davis.
Images from top:
1. Robert Henri
2. Blips and Ifs, 1963-64. Pil on canvas. Art © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Acquisition in memory of John de Menil, Trustee, Amon Carter Museum, 1961–1969
3. Stuart Davis