Hot Beat

Media - 1976.108.33 - SAAM-1976.108.33_2 - 123040
Copied Gene Davis, Hot Beat, 1964, acrylic on canvas, 45 5850 14 in. (115.9127.6 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Woodward Foundation, 1976.108.33

Artwork Details

Hot Beat
Not on view
45 5850 14 in. (115.9127.6 cm.)
stretcher back upper right in pencil: Gene Davis stretcher back center in felt-tipped pen and ink: Woodward/Collection/#166 stetcher back upper center in pencil: TOP stretcher back upper left in pencil: HOT BEAT
Credit Line
Gift of the Woodward Foundation
Mediums Description
acrylic on canvas
  • Nonrepresentational
  • Abstract — geometric
Object Number

Artwork Description

Davis placed colors without a preconceived plan: "My whole approach is intuitive. Sometimes I simply use the color I have the most of and worry about getting out of trouble later."

Gene Davis: Hot Beat, 2016
Gallery Label
Davis considered the unexpected intervals between bands of color in his compositions to be crucial to their vibrant, musical effect, suggesting that viewers "enter the work through a single color...and see what it does all the way across the painting... [then] you can understand what my painting is all about." Here, the edges between colors blur as our eyes struggle to cope with the dramatic contrasts. Certain hues, such as the white and the acid green, jump forward, but eventually all the stripes appear to pulse in and out of focus, as if moving in time to the "hot beat." Davis worked with the motif of the vertical stripe for nearly thirty years, finding it an endlessly productive device for exploring the expressive and structural qualities of color.
Luce Center Label

Gene Davis worked mostly with vertical stripes because he felt that horizontal stripes "carry the illusion of landscape," and he didn't want his paintings to represent anything except themselves. Between 1962 and 1969, he painted lines of uniform width so that nothing would distract the eye from his vibrant color combinations. (Naifeh, Gene Davis, 1982) Here, the edges between the stripes blur as our eyes struggle to cope with the dramatic contrasts. Certain hues, such as the whites toward the center and the acid greens near the edge, jump forward, but eventually all of the stripes appear to drift in and out of focus as if moving in time to gentle music. Davis never planned his compositions more than a few stripes ahead and instead improvised like a musician, letting each color inspire the next.