Gene Davis is an American Color Field painter known for his vibrant acrylic canvases depicting vertical stripes in various colors and patterns. Prior to becoming a painter, he was a political journalist, and was close friends with President Truman, often partnering with him for poker games. Davis began painting in 1949, and had his first solo exhibition of paintings in 1953. Along with Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, Davis was a leading contributor to the Washington Color School, through which these artists nurtured their fascination with color relationships. Davis also experimented with scale, from the monumental Franklin’s footpath, painted on the street in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to micro-paintings no more than 3/8 of an inch square.
The present work, titled Pepper Tattoo, leans more to the larger side of his scale experiments, measuring about 8 by 9 ½ feet. The largest section of the painting, in the middle, features alternating stripes of orange and red. The very edges have stripes alternating blue and yellow. While the primary color scheme seems simple, the pattern of vertical stripes creates illusions of movement, appearing to shift and change as the eyes move across the canvas. Davis often drew connections between his paintings and the improvisational nature of jazz, causing the viewer to wonder what piece of music he may have been listening to as he painted this vibrant work.