1944 Gladys Rockmore Davis, Autobiography, Book, American Artists Group, Monograph Number 10
by GLADYS ROCKMORE DAVIS
It was my good fortune in early childhood that instead of merely playing with dolls, I had also an irresistible impulse to draw them. As I grew older, but still a child, my interest in drawing became so consuming that my early memories hold at the exclusion of all else, the great urge to become an artist. That urge, has continued to manifest itself uninterruptedly.
So far as I know, or the family records show, there was nothing in my background to account for this talent. I was born in New York City in 1901. My parents were not artists. They were not even interested in the arts. Towards my efforts their attitude was one of amused tolerance. Yet I cannot honestly say that I did not receive encouragement in those early years.
When I was nine years old, my fatherís business interests took us to various parts of Canada. I spent the following five years getting used to one school, only to find myself moved on to another. This successive uprooting did not stop me from giving every moment of my spare time to drawing and painting. We finally returned to the United States and landed in San Francisco. While there, I attended Saturday classes at the California School of Fine Arts. Of this period, I have fascinating memories of the caverns below the school which were the ruins of the original building destroyed in the great earthquake. Another memory is of endless fields of poppies. It was in San Francisco that I first studied from life, and won my first prize. After two years, the family moved again and we finally settled in Chicago. It was there that I got my real start in the world of art.
I was sent to High School and am sure that I was the most impatient girl in the school. For me, the main problem was to see how quickly I could get through in order to be eligible to enroll at the Art Institute of Chicago. The following three years spent at the Institute were easily the most important years of my early training.
At that time, the school was staffed by a group of brilliant and talented men, among them, the late John Norton. His principles and theories of drawing I have found to be so valuable that they are not only of great assistance to me at the present time, but I feel certain that I can depend upon them at all times in the future. John Norton taught me to look, to see, in other words, to really use my eyes. To my mind, he was a great teacher.
After my first year at the Institute, it was announced that George Bellows would take an advanced class in painting. I shall never forget the excitement that this news created. Although I had not progressed to the point where I was eligible for advanced painting, I did attend one of his classes during which he delivered a lecture while painting a portrait. I will never forget this experience. The mere fact that he commuted from New York each week impressed all of us. He had a confidence and facility that dazzled us. Tall, genial, with a great domed head, he exuded a kind of native quality that particularly appealed to young students. Here was perhaps the most famous American painter of that day, and we all knew that he was a crack baseball player. An irresistible combination.
One of the things that I remember about the Art Institute with real gratitude is that the school is part of a large museum. Each day we were privileged to go from the classrooms to the galleries. We were able to see for ourselves the actual application of what we were being taught. It has always seemed to me that this was an immense advantage. Sometimes students, particularly those who have unusual facility, grow overconfident of their abilities. For this, there is no better antidote than a museum filled with masterpieces of many periods. Great paintings make us humble. Itís one thing to stand out in a class of students, and another thing to stand in front of El Grecoís ďAssumption of the VirginĒ. I believe the Chicago Art Institute acquired this a number of years before any other American museum possessed a great painting by the master of Toledo. The museum contained magnificent Spanish, Flemish, Dutch and other works, and was especially rich in nineteenth century French Art. What this abundance and variety of great paintings must have meant to even the least imaginative student is only too clear. We were constantly faced with quality which we naturally tried, however inadequate our abilities, to emulate.
As for the students, we were all young, eager, ambitious and broke. Most of us had tuition jobs of some sort or another. My particular job was to put up still-lifes. As I look back, I realize that a truly remarkable spirit existed in the school at that time. Thatís what happens when there are both good teachers and eager students. It is easy to understand why the school has attracted through the years a fair share of the painters who since have won high places in contemporary American painting.
After graduating in 1920, I was faced with the necessity of earning a living. Commercial art seemed to be the answer. I spent the next eleven years as an advertising and fashion artist. This proved to be not only remunerative, but a most instructive experience in many ways. Actually, it taught me much in the way of judgment, discipline, and facility.
I was married in 1925, to Floyd Davis, who, at that time was already a well-known artist. His unfailing interest and flawless taste have been a continuous source of inspiration to me. We moved to New York and set up house-keeping in the old Sherwood Studios. In 1928 and 1930 respectively, Noel and Deborah, our son and daughter made their appearance.
In 1932, we decided to go abroad for a year. So, having unlimited optimism, and the fearlessness of youth, we packed up bag, baggage, nurse and babies and departed. After many months of wandering over the roads of France, Germany, Hungary, and Italy, we finally settled down in Cannes, for a period of about six months. Our house was only a short distance from the house in Le Cannet where Renoir spent the last twenty-five years of his life. It was a great thrill to be permitted to visit his house and see his studio. We also had the opportunity of seeing the private collection of drawings and paintings in the possession of his family. During this period, I painted constantly. We returned after a year to New York, and to my astonishment I discovered that I had completely lost the knack of turning out commercial work. I floundered for a couple of months and then went back to school. I studied at the Art Studentís League for a few months, then later spent some time working with George Grosz, whose intelligent interest was most helpful. After this period, I threw away all leading strings, and plunged myself into the exciting world of painting.
Instinctively, I chose subjects with which I was then most familiar, namely, my children, flowers, women, etc. During this period, I was deeply absorbed in the problem of controlling light. Since Rembrandt had so wonderfully accomplished this feat, I spent many hours at the Metropolitan Museum trying to ferret out the masterís secret. The other problem which also interested me at this time was trying to create a sensation of mood.
During my first five years of painting, color, had not as yet become important to me. I used earth tones almost exclusively. In the next phase, subject matter remained much the same. My excursion into the medium of pastel about five years ago, definitely changed my use of oil paint. Using the sticks of chalk showed me the possibilities of creating vibrations of color by applying strokes of pure color next to one another. When I returned to the medium of oil, I experimented with this idea and pure color began to show itself in my painting. The most complete change in my work to date, started last September when I began work on a series of paintings of the Ballet Backstage. Since it was impossible to make my paintings at the scene itself, I was forced to discontinue working directly from the model. Having been, up to this time, entirely dependent upon the model, this marks a complete change in method. It has opened up a thrilling new world of phantasy and excitement.
In this subject of the ballet, with which I am so deeply absorbed at present, I find a perfect subject for working out and combining the two problems which have for so long fascinated me, namely, light and color.
I have no idea what the future holds for me. It is enough to find the present as absorbing and exciting as it is.
Born in New York City in 1901, Gladys Rockmore Davis studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is regularly included in all the large national and international exhibitions. Her earliest contributions to the museum exhibitions attracted immediate attention and she has won a series of important awards.
She was honored with awards at an Art Institute of Chicago Annual Exhibition, Corcoran Galleryís Biennial Exhibition, Virginia Biennial Exhibition and Pennsylvania Academy Annual Exhibition.
Mrs. Davis is represented in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Swope Art Gallery, the University of Nebraska, the University of Arizona, Toledo Museum, Butler Art Institute, Encyclopoedia Britannica, Dallas Museum, Cranbrook Academy and in many private collections.
Lengthy feature articles with color illustrations of the artistís work have appeared in the Magazine of Art, January 1940, the American Artist Magazine, February 1942, and London Studio, November 1942. Life Magazine 1943, 1944, 1945. She recently executed a series of paintings of liberated Paris as a war correspondent for Life Magazine.
She has had three one-man shows at the Midtown Galleries where she regularly exhibits.