Gene Davis

American; b. Washington, D.C., 1920–d. Washington, D.C. 1985

Junkie's Curtain


acrylic on canvas
115 5/8 x 219 1/8 in. (293.7 x 556.6 cm)

Gift of the artist
© Estate of Gene Davis, Smithsonian American Art Museum


…look at the painting in terms of individual colors. In other words, instead of simply glancing at the work, select a specific color such as yellow or lime green, and take the time to see how it operates across the painting. Approached this way, something happens, I can’t explain it. But one must enter the painting through the door of a single color. And then, you can understand what my painting is all about. — Gene Davis, 1975

Best known for his vibrant and monumental stripe paintings, Gene Davis initially began working in the Abstract Expressionist style in the late 1950s. A self-taught artist, Davis’ intuitive orchestration of color directed his experimentation with large scale painting. Initially he pursued a motif of concentric rectangles as a means to enforce structure and create an illusion of depth within his compositions. By the early 1960s the unyielding arrangement of vertical colored stripes had become his dominant motif. These resonant, rhythmic patterns are dynamic, mesmerizing, and physically engaging.