He grew up in an artistic environment, for 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 1910-13, 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 1928-29 he introduced a new note into US 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 (House and Street, Whitney Museum, New York, 1931).
He later went over to pure abstract patterns, into which he often introduced lettering, suggestions of advertisements, posters, etc. (Owh! in San Pao, Whitney Museum, 1951). The zest and dynamism of such works reflect his interest in jazz. Davis is generally considered to be the outstanding American artist to work in a Cubist 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: `I paint what I see in America, in other words I paint the American Scene.'
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