Jazz has been an influence in many artist’s work, from painting to other forms
of music. Jazz is an American music form that was developed from
African-American work songs. The white man began to imitate them in the 1920’s
and the music form caught on and became very popular. Two artists that were
influenced by jazz were Jean-Michel Basquiat and Stuart Davis. The influence is
quite evident in many of their works, such as Horn Players, by Basquiat, and
Swing Landscape, by Davis. Stuart Davis was born in Philadelphia in 1894. He
grew up in an artistic environment, his father was art director of a
Philadelphia newspaper, who had employed Luks, Glackens, and other members of
the Eight. He studied with Robert Henri from 1910 to 1913, made covers and
drawings for the social realist periodical The Masses, which was associated with
the Ash-can School, and exhibited watercolors in the Armory Show, which made an
overwhelming impact on him. After a visit to Paris in 1928 he introduced a new
note into U.S. cubism, basing himself on its synthetic rather than its
analytical phase. Using natural forms, particularly forms suggesting the
characteristic environment of American life, he rearranged them into flat
poster-like patterns with precise outlines and sharply contrasting colors. He
later went on to pure abstract patterns, into which he often introduced
lettering, suggestions of advertisements, and posters. The zest and dynamism of
such works as Swing Landscape reflect his interest in jazz, which Davis
considered to be the counterpart to abstract art. Davis is often considered to
be the outstanding American artist to work in a cubism idiom. He made witty and
original use of it and created a distinctive American style, for however
abstract his works became he always claimed that every image he used had its
source in observed reality. Davis once said ” I paint what I see in
America, in other words I paint the American scene.” Stuart Davis’ works of
the late 1930’s celebrate the urban and technological environment and are quite
complex and frequently recall Legers’s brightly coloured geometric forms. Early
works depict saloons and ragtime musicians. Titles and images of his works in
the 30’s reflect syncopation and unusual rhythm of jazz, particularly swing .

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960, four years before Stuart Davis’ death. At
an early age Basquiat showed an interest and love for drawing. His mother often
took him to The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and The Metropolitan
Museum of Art. At the age of seven he and a friend of his wrote and illustrated
a children’s book. Basquiat was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock films, cars, comic
books, and Alfred E. Newman from Mad Magazine. By the time he was seven he was
an avid reader of French, Spanish, and English texts. In his teenage years
Basquiat ran away from home often. He did not like obedience. By 1978 he was in
with the “in crowd.” The filmmakers and artists of New York. He
enjoyed doing graffiti work using the name SAMO ( same old *censored* ).

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Basquiat’s career was divided into three broad phases. From 1980 to 1982 he used
painterly gestures, mostly skeletal figures that signal his obsession with
mortality. He also used figures that represent street existence, such as
policeman, buildings, and graffiti. From 1982 to 1985 he was using more phrases
and words in his paintings. They reveal a strong interest in his black and
hispanic identity and his identification with historical and contemporary black
figures and events. The last phase was from 1986 until his death in 1988. His
work displays a new type of figurative depiction, using different symbols,
sources, and content. He was seeking a new territory in his work. When
Basquiat’s Horn Players and Davis’ Swing Landscape are displayed side by side it
is quite obvious that they were done by two different artist. In Swing Landscape
it is not obvious that this piece was inspired by jazz, as where in Horn Players
the influence of jazz is evident. These painters have two completely different
styles but are inspired by the same types of things. They are inspired by
society and music. They both appreciate the art value of music, especially jazz.

Stuart Davis’ Swing Landscape is quite colorful and vibrant. The colors give a
feeling of jazz with the use of blues and cool colors. The use of the warm
colors shows the unpredictability of jazz. There are many forms of geometric
shapes used in this painting. The shapes used in this painting again show the
unpredictability of jazz, as well as the vibrancy of that music form. There are
not a lot of distinguishing symbols of jazz in the painting, except for maybe a
pair of sunglasses and a metronome in the bottom left corner. This painting
represents 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 that
the music is incredibly vibrant and unpredictable is quite noticeable. I can
envision Stuart Davis listening to jazz and swing while painting this. You can
see the notes within the painting. If you listen real carefully you can hear the
music. I find Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Horn Players to be more of a representation
of the people behind the music. Basquiat’s painting has some color in it, but is
not vibrant. The colors almost show the dark and troubled side of jazz. He uses
a lot of words and symbols. It shows his hero Charlie Parker, which is evident
by the use of the word “Ornithology”, a composition by the great
Charlie Parker and his colleague in modern jazz, Dizzy Gillespie. Both of their
names show up in the painting. The word ear reminds us that jazz is from
aural/oral roots, more improvised than written down. The word larynx is in honor
of the ability to play full-throated. The painting also praises memorable
scatting with the words ooh shoo de obee. An art historian once suggested that
the symbol soap alludes to being “clean” in black argot, being, in
other words, aesthetically impeccable. Basquiat was very involved in his own
celebration of the black man and this is one of those paintings. There are
similarities between Swing Landscape and Horn Players even though they are very
different pieces. With two different styles the artists are able to show the
viewer the values of jazz. They both appreciate the variance of the music form
jazz. A love for jazz, by the artist, can be seen in both paintings.


Bibliography
Marshall, 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