Hello from Donna Jonte, your Phillips at Home host. Thanks for spending time with me and works of art from The Phillips Collection, slowing down to look, think, wonder, and respond creatively.
Today, after exploring two Paris street scenes from 1928, we will layer our memories and dreams on a coloring page, making it our own.
Materials Needed: Printer to print coloring page, markers, crayons, color pencils
Time: 30-45 minutes
We have been at home these last few months. If you are like me, your mind has been filled with memories and dreams. Maybe in our memories we’ve revisited places that we have been to with our families, or maybe we have been dreaming about new places to explore.
Many artists paint places they want to remember. American modernist artists Stuart Davis (1882-1964) and John D. Graham (1887-1961) both visited Paris, France, in 1928. They met there and became good friends. Wouldn’t it be great to discover a new place with a new friend? Graham was an experienced traveler, who was born in Ukraine and lived in Europe before immigrating to America. In contrast, this was Davis’s first and only trip to Paris. He liked Paris so much that he stayed for 13 months, coming home only when he ran out of money!
Would you like to get to know the city that Graham and Davis loved so much? We will look closely at two paintings. Then, inspired by our two artists and the stories we discover in their artwork, we will respond creatively using our coloring page.
(STEP 1) Observe
Let’s start by looking at Stuart Davis’s Blue Café, guided by the See-Think-Wonder Thinking Routine. Are you sitting comfortably? Take a deep breath. Exhale.
• Let your eyes slowly wander around the painting for about 30 seconds. Now look again, carefully, but with more focus.
• What do you notice?
• Where do your eyes want to go?
• What colors do you see? Shapes? Lines?
• Share five observations with a family member. Now, talk about what you observed.
• What surprises you in the painting? How might you describe the mood?
• If you could jump into this painting, where would you like to be?
• What questions would you ask the artist?
Let’s turn our attention to the street scene painted by Davis’s friend, John Graham.
• Look carefully for 30 seconds. Discuss with your family what you see, think, and wonder.
• What do you think about the repeated shapes of the architectural elements—the arched doorways, the pointy-roofed kiosks?
• Have you ever seen architecture like this?
(STEP 2) Compare
• How are these paintings different? How are they alike?
• How do they combine the known (a place we can recognize as “real”) and the unknown (something surreal or unusual, like a dream or a mystery)?
• Do you see things in the paintings that remind you of the past? Do they remind you of the present, or something you might see today?
• Does either painting remind you of your neighborhood?
• When you looked closely, did you find clues about what the artists observed and what they imagined? What’s really fun about these clues, or details, is that some seem silly and make believe! Do you think the Paris buildings were really lavender? Can a musical staff float in a pink sky? What sort of dreams and memories might have inspired these choices?
(STEP 3) Get to know the artists
Stuart Davis often revisited his earlier work, remixing and transforming it into something new. Art critics compared his layered and brightly colored artworks to jazz, the music Davis claimed was the “great American art expression.” He said, “For me—I had jazz all my life—I almost breathed it like air.” He loved to play with words, incorporating text as graphic elements that enliven his paintings. Even his signature becomes a dancing line.
Here are examples of Davis riffing on his own work. Can you see hints of the early work (House and Street, 1931) in the later, more abstract paintings (For Internal Use Only, 1944, and The Mellow Pad, 1945-51)?
Graham was born in Kiev, Ukraine, trained to be a lawyer, served as a cavalry officer in the Czar’s army, and immigrated to America in 1920, becoming a US citizen in 1927. He spoke many languages, practiced yoga, admired horses, and began studying art when he was in his 30s.
Graham’s first one-person museum exhibition was at The Phillips Collection in 1929. Graham introduced Duncan Phillips to Stuart Davis’s work in 1930. The Phillips Collection owns eight works by Davis and 36 by Graham.
Davis was committed to social justice. In the 1930s he advocated for artists’ rights, becoming vice president of the Artists Union and president of the American Artists’ Congress. Davis loved jazz so much that he named his son Earl George after jazz musicians Earl Hines and George Whettling. You can find more information on Davis as an artist who brought a “distinctively American accent to international modernism” through the Whitney Museum of American Art.
(STEP 4) Create
- Print the PDF coloring page of Graham’s Rue Brea. (Don’t have a printer? No problem! You can draw Rue Brea or any street scene—as long as you fill it with color and imagination!) Gather color pencils, markers, crayons, or even collage materials.
- How might you change Graham’s composition to make it your own?
- How will you include your memories and dreams? Will you add people? Will you add trees and gardens? What will the weather be? What colors might you use?
- Give your composition a title when you have finished.
Thank you for joining me for Phillips at Home! Please share your artwork and suggestions for future art explorations with me at firstname.lastname@example.org