Spanierman Gallery, LLC is pleased to announce the show James Daugherty (1887-1974): Late Abstractions. The exhibition and sale, comprised of twenty-seven oils and acrylics and thirty-eight oil pastels, present the remarkable abstract color paintings that this important twentieth-century American modernist created during the last twenty years of his life. Previously unknown outside of a small circle of family and friends, this work is being exhibited for the first time, and the show brings much-deserved recognition to this overlooked phase of Daugherty's long and distinguished career. The catalogue for the exhibition, which includes an essay by William C. Agee and thirty-eight color plates, is available from the gallery for $40 postpaid.
Prior to his immersion in the language of color painting in 1914-17, James Daugherty gradually worked his way into modernist art. He was born in 1887, in Asheville, North Carolina, and grew up on farms in Ohio and Indiana before his family moved to Washington, D.C. From a young age he drew and made illustrations, and by the time he was sixteen, he was taking evening classes at the Corcoran School of Art. He subsequently studied in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Hugh Breckenridge, William Merritt Chase, and Henry McCarter, in London with Frank Brangwyn, and in New York at the National Academy of Design.
In 1913 Daugherty's eyes were opened to a world of new possibilities by the landmark Armory Show and his discovery of a book by C. Lewis Hind, Post-Impressionism, which had been published in 1911. As he later described it, he "went modern with a vengeance." His initial foray into modernism consisted of Futurist-inspired works in which swirling and intersecting figures were abstracted and fragmented in the nonstop movement of popular activities such as baseball and dancing.
Daugherty's art took a dramatic and defining turn in 1915, when he came into contact with Arthur B. Frost, Jr., another young American artist, who had recently returned from Paris, where he had worked closely with Robert and Sonia Delaunay, the inventors of Orphic Cubism. Inspired by Frost's example, Daugherty began to explore the use of pure color in conjunction with abstract design. He soon developed a style consisting of highly complex arrangements of strips, segments, and circles of color. Daugherty quickly became one of the foremost proponents of color painting and in turn, influenced other young American painters, including Jay Van Everen. During these years, Daugherty exhibited his work at the Society of Independent Artists in New York and later with the Société Anonyme, Inc.
In the 1920s, Daugherty responded to the call for indigenous subject matter by adopting a more figurative style while retaining his former emphasis on vibrant color. He subsequently produced numerous easel paintings and murals, most notably his Spirit of Cinema America (1920; Loew's State Theatre, Cleveland). He continued his mural work into the 1930s, but eventually devoted the majority of his time to illustrating children's books.
Just exactly what had inspired Daugherty to return to abstract painting in 1953 is not certain. It is known that he admired the Abstract Expressionists, particularly the luminous color of Mark Rothko. And since he did not perceive a break between earlier and later modernism, he embraced the continuity between the two generations of modern art. The first of Daugherty's later paintings such as Portable Bomb Shelter of 1953 were small and created in an irregular geometric format of broad horizontal and vertical bands. With their relatively stable compositions and subdued palettes, they suggest the pervasive influence exerted by the work of Piet Mondrian after that artist's death in New York in 1944. Soon Daugherty worked his way back into the discipline of abstract painting, and by 1957-58 he was working at full throttle, expanding to much larger sizes, breaking from the grid, and using increasingly complex formats as in Tensions of 1957 and Aldrin of 1958.
In the years that followed, Daugherty continued to alternate modes. In 1960, in works such as Abstraction with Red Sun, he returned to the old rectilinear format of vertical and horizontal, but he joined these elements with circles, producing a distinctly new feel. In two subsequent works, Yellow Sun (1961) and The Day the Sun Stood Still (1961), he used a lighter, more refined painterly touch, with layered, almost transparent color planes recalling the color veils of Rothko's art. Daugherty used color and light in his works to make "shapes of glorious majesty that spoke of a higher power in the universe," and his sun paintings convey his deeply felt spiritual beliefs and his optimism in the fundamental goodness of the world.
By 1965 Daugherty's work had reached a greater peak of size, complexity, and color intensity as demonstrated in works such as Simultaneous (ca. 1965) and Cape Canaveral (1965). The explosive energies of these paintings put into physical form what Daugherty called the "out rushing forces of the cosmos" in an "ever expanding infinitude." Many of the works of this time, including The Weight of Weightlessness (ca. 1965), refer to the new world of space travel with singular shapes, each clear and distinct from the others, floating freely in unbounded pictorial space. Fusing the old and the contemporary, Daughterty referred both to early modernism and to the abstract illusionism developed by younger artists in the 1960s such as Frank Stella, Al Held, and Ron Davis. Daugherty continued to paint until the end of his life, never ceasing to experiment and find ways that abstraction could "restore meaning to life and announce its beauty and capacity."
In his late abstractions, Daugherty referenced his modernist beginnings while finding inspiration in the contemporary world. Bridging two generations of modern art as he moved his art in new directions, Daugherty's late works reveal a strength and assurance gained from a lifetime of painting.