Stuart Davis and inspiration for his Champion Paintings

Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964), was an early American modernist painter who spent time living in Paris as well as in New York City. He is remembered for his bright and colorful paintings of 1940s and 1950s that were influenced by jazz and were considered by some to be a early inspiration for the Pop artists of the 1960s.


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Speaking of inspiration, I saw this large-scale vintage mural advertisement for Champion Spark Plugs in Newark, and wondered if maybe this served as inspiration for Davis's series of "Champion" paintings?

Vintage mural advertisement in Newark for Champion Spark Plugs

Looking at the age of the building and the wear and fading of these murals, they look pretty old - but are they old enough to have been there when Stuart Davis would have been around? It's a common fact that Stuart Davis lived in New York City, so how could I argue that this mural in Newark would have been an inspiration for him?

Well, for one, it's not a highly publicized fact, but he actually spent part of his childhood living in Newark, and later in East Orange (neither of which are mentioned on his Wikipedia page - so don't trust that as a definitive source!). Early in the 20th Century, Newark was sometimes referred to as "the other Harlem," with a number of jazz clubs in the Springfield/Belmont neighborhood. It has been noted that Davis's father took him to jazz clubs as a kid, and this Champion Spark Plugs mural is on Lafayette Street, just east of where those jazz clubs used to be located. Hmm, do we have some clues here?

This all makes for some interesting speculation, and my search for more information certainly was fun. But my search also revealed a source from WNYC News that claims the inspiration for the "Champion" paintings by Stuart Davis actually came from a matchbox ad for the Champion spark plugs. I was able to find some photographs of some vintage matchbox covers, so I've assembled a collection of those alongside some of Davis's other Champion paintings.

Stuart Davis Champion Painting based on logo for Champion Spark Plugs

There's not a clear-cut visual association between the specific matchbox covers shown here and the Stuart Davis paintings, but the use of yellow, red and blue colors certainly exists in both, the the slight curve of the shape behind the word "Champion" on the paintings does mimic the "bow tie" shape on some of the Champion logos - but that fits for both the matchbox images and the wall mural. At any rate, it's interesting to see some source material and the Davis paintings together.

Stuart Davis Champion Paintings and vintage Champion Spark Plugs matchbox covers




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