The early work of Stuart Davis was influenced by the Ashcan School. The artist borrowed from the artistic school's selection of simple subject matter over the Cubist abstraction of European art during the early 1900s, but Davis wanted to paint with a totally new approach to style. Early in his career, the artist set out to find a new visual language with which to express himself through art. He nailed an electric fan, a pair of rubber gloves, and an egg beater to a table and for a year painted only these. This experiment drew him away from a reliance on subject matter and opened his eyes to the possibilities of abstraction. With these discoveries, the artist returned to his old affinity for the subjects in urban America but returned to these subjects through the lens of abstraction; and his 1938 painting Swing Landscape is a product of this blend.
Whereas the abstract works of Kandinsky and Pollock functioned as abstract artworks in order to communicate broad, intangible ideas or themes, this painting is of very real subject matter. Davis has here painted a collage of the American urban landscape, complete with buildings, street signs, sidewalks, and other recognizable objects, but he has painted the scene as he felt it and heard it in addition to how he saw it. It's largely just a collection of colors, shapes, and textures suggested by real-world objects, and on the canvas it appears abstract. This revolutionary combination of two otherwise polar opposites, realism and abstraction, broadens the ability of art to express an idea or capture an impression via any stylistic approach. But the implications of such a work are not merely that an artist can possess absolute freedom in approaching a subject matter; inherent within the ideology of a painting like Swing Landscape is the notion that a concrete subject contains a multiplicity (or abstraction) of interpretive expression. Davis suggests that there is more to the landscape scene of urban America than the physical look of it. Within every object resides an ether or an abstract quality (or several qualities) that art can bring out through realism and/or abstraction. Here the artist has expressed some of the potential for that breakthrough in artistic freedom by so colorfully and stylistically recreating an otherwise ordinary scene.