LONELINESS IN NUMBERS
Davis show reflects personal view of fraternal orders
Noel Davis, a 28-year-old New York artist, is fascinated by crowds. He has haunted Coney Island, circuses, carnivals and fairs, recording the spectacle of people who are bent on enjoying themselves. Six months ago Davis’ interest found a new focus. Taking off across the country, he began an impromptu investigation of American fraternal organizations. The result of Davis’ tour was hundreds of sketches and a dozen striking paintings, seven of which are reproduced here.
Though his paintings deal largely with festive occasions like parades and picnics or with colorful motifs of society rituals, they are permeated by an unusual mood of loneliness and depression which hauntingly conveys the artist’s personal outlook. “There were a lot of nice people in the clubs,” Noel Davis admits, “and they were doing some worthy things. But individuals somehow get lost in a crowd and when they do, they feel more alone than ever.”
A resolute individualist, Davis has managed most of his life to avoid participating in group activities. The son of two artists, Floyd and Gladys Rockmore Davis, he attended art school for six months, then gave it up to study by himself “without teachers and students hovering around.” The solitary training resulting from this decision was successful enough to win him two major art fellowships. At his recent one-man show in New York, critics praised his “extraordinary ability” but were perturbed by his joyless viewpoint.
The organizations which Davis took as his subject loom large in American social life, numbering 100 million men, women and children as members. The orders share a devotion to friendly gatherings, elaborate ritual and odd names—and to good works, which have eased and made happier the lives of thousands of Americans.