A student of Robert Henri and a childhood friend of John Sloan, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, and George Luks, Davis developed an early affinity for the painterly style and urban subjects of the Ash Can group. In 1913, the year he began submitting drawings to Harper's and The Masses, five of Davis's paintings were in-cluded in the Armory Show, which he considered the "greatest single influence" he experienced in his work. By 1915 or so, Davis was experimenting with Cubist abstraction and collage, and in his Eggbeater series of the late 1920s, which he later called the basis of everything he subsequently painted, Davis analyzed a simple still life in terms of Cubist geometry and space. Although he employed a style that originated in Europe, Davis was an outspoken proponent of America. He considered jazz "the only thing that corresponded to an authentic art" in the United States and introduced billboards, cigarette packages, jazz rhythms, and other symbols of America into his paintings. Throughout his life, but especially during the 1930s, Davis was a social activist. He belonged to several left-wing artists groups and eloquently defended abstraction as a viable vehicle for social comment.
William H. Truettner and Roger B. Stein, editors, with contributions by Dona Brown, Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Judith K. Maxwell, Stephen Nissenbaum, Bruce Robertson, Roger B. Stein, and William H. Truettner Picturing Old New England: Image and Memory (Washington, D.C.; New Haven, Conn; and London: National Museum of American Art with Yale University Press, 1999)