From 1910 to 1912 Stuart Davis studied with John Sloan at Robert Henri's school in New York City. In 1913 Davis was one of the youngest artists to exhibit in the milestone Armory Show, the first major exhibition of European and American modern art in the United States. During the next ten years he assimilated the lessons of the European avant-garde, and in 1927-28 he painted a series of pictures called Eggbeaters that were among the first abstract paintings made in America. In the 1930s Davis was a leader in artists' political organizations and the American art world's most eloquent spokesman for combining abstract art with social conscience.
In the 1940s Davis pursued a post-Cubist style, as did the young Abstract Expressionists, but during the 1950s he reacted against them, calling the existential anxiety and subjective content of work by such painters as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning a "belch from the unconscious." Davis countered with a controlled, decorative style characterized by broad, flat, vibrantly colored forms and infused with a fierce enthusiasm for urban culture.
Composition Concrete was commissioned in 1957 for the lobby of the H.J. Heinz Company's research center in Pittsburgh. In the lower left corner is a scrambled "1957," a reference to the year the work was painted and to the company's "57 varieties!' The red, white, and blue colors are intentionally nationalistic. The title Composition Concrete refers in part to the musique concrete of the French-American composer Edgar Varese, who taped sounds and then edited and reorganized them, and in part to Davis's own style. He regarded his paintings as realistic but nonrepresentational—objects with a concrete existence of their own rather than depictions of other things.
Davis's connections with popular culture, his use of words, numbers, and written symbols, and his flat, geometric style are harbingers of the Pop, Minimalist, and Conceptual art movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.