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Kenn Davis (1932 - 2010)[1] was an American surrealist painter and mystery novel writer. During the 1950s and 1960s he was associated with the Beat Generation at San Francisco's North Beach.

Life and Education

Kenn Davis was born as Kenneth Allan Schmoker in Salinas, California.[2] After his parents divorced, he moved with his mother and brother to San Francisco at age five. He attended grammar school in San Francisco.[1] He went finger painting and to drawing classes on Saturdays at the San Francisco Museum of Art, today's San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.[1] At age 10, at the beginning of WWII, Kenn and his brother attended a catholic boy school in Marin County, a boarding school.[1] At the end of the war, Kenn and his brother moved back to their mother and step father, Henry Davis, who bought him his first easel. Kenn changed his surname to his step father's name. (His brother changed his name to Zekial Marko[2] and became a mystery author under the name John Trinian.) Kenn attended City College of San Francisco before being drafted to the Korean War in 1952.[2] He left the military in 1954 and returned to study art at the City College of San Francisco. In 1956 he transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1964, he was hired by the San Fran

cisco Chronicle as photo retoucher and illustrator, a position from which he resigned in 1984.[3]
Friendship with Richard Brautigan

Davis was a close friend of author Richard Brautigan, whom he met in 1956 or 1957.[4] He designed the covers for two of Brautigan's poetry collections, The Galilee Hitch-Hiker (1958)[5] and Lay the Marble Tea (1959).[4] He also frequently sketched him together with others of the North Beach Beat scene. In 1959, Kenn Davis painted a portrait of Richard Brautigan in oil on linen, which also appeared on the cover on a collection of essays on Brautigan edited by John Barber.[4] This book contains also many sketches by Kenn Davis.[6]


Davis was mostly a surrealist.[7] Some of his paintings reflect critical analysis of society while others show introspection in human psychology. Some paintings still draw on material reality and thus could be classified under magic realism. The style of his surrealistic paintings show influence of European surrealists like Hieronymus Bosch. His earlier paintings of the 1950s and 1960s are darker both in color schemes and mood than his later paintings. The technique of his oil paintings at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s show influence of old masters. His later paintings often include a humorous or satirical detail. Kenn Davis first solo exhibition was at the Studio 44 Gallery in San Francisco in 1956. Davis' paintings were displayed at the Coffee Gallery in San Francisco.[8]

Davis designed the book covers of Robert Bloch's Lost in Time and Space with Lefty Feep, edited by John Stanley, 1987, Creatures at Large Press, as well as Creature Features Strikes Again Movie Guide and Revenge of the Creature Features Movie Guide, both by John Stanley.

Selection of Paintings

1954 - Point of View, oil on linen, 24" x 28", private collection
1957 - Impression of Actor Ben Gazzara, ink on canvas, private collection
1959 - Richard Brautigan as a Young Poet, oil on linen, 32" x 20", private collection[2]
1960 - Family Dynamics, oil on linen, 22.5" x 28"
1961 - A Man Possessed, oil on linen, 52" x 34", private collection
1965 - Procedure for Inaugural Hopes, oil on linen, 28" x 22", private collection
1980 - The Retention Of Mnemonic Skies, oil on linen, 34" x 44", private collection
1985 - Re-entry of Icarus, oil on linen, 49" x 49", private collection
1986 - New York, New York, oil on linen, 72" x 60", Hotel Wales, New York City
1990 - A Communique from Bomber Command, oil on linen, shaped canvas, 54" horizontally, private collection
1990 - No Energy, oil on linen, 10" x 14", private collection
1990 - The Nodal Point of Achievement, oil on linen, 28" x 42"
1993 - Spectre of Cancelled Gnostics, oil on linen, 36" x 45"
1995 - The Macro of Disobedience, oil on linen, 54" x 36", private collection
1999 - Landing in a Degraded World, oil on linen, 38" x 34"
2003 - The Loneliness of Noble Nutrients, oil on linen, 35" x 48"
2004 - A Progression of Morandi's Premise, oil on linen, 30" x 48", private collection
2004 - A Dwelling out of the Classifieds, oil on linen, 12" x 9", private collection
2008 - Rendition for an Acceptable Response, oil on linen, 28" x 42"
2009 - In the Age of Microwaves, oil on linen, 18.5" x 15.375"
2009 - Polarization of Limited Space II, oil on linen, 32" x 36", private collection
2009 - The Terminus of Farce, oil on linen, 37" x 43", irregular hexagonal-shaped canvas, private collection
2009 - Ambition Thwarted by Indifference, oil on linen, 36" x 28"
2009 - The Needle in Monet's Haystack, oil on linen, 22" x 32"
2009 - A Climax of Containers, oil on linen, 30" x 24"
2010 - Untitled, unfinished, final painting, oil on linen, 46" x 36", private collection


Kenn Davis together with John Stanley is the creator of Carver Bascombe, a black Vietnam veteran with military police background who is a private investigator in San Francisco.[3][9] This character first appeared in 1976 in the mystery novel The Dark Side[10] that Kenn coauthored with John Stanley.[1][11] Carver Bascombe appears in seven more mystery novels.[3] Kenn Davis was an Edgar Award Nominee twice, once in 1977 for The Dark Side (with John Stanley) and again in 1985 for Words Can Kill.[12]
List of Books

1976 - The Dark Side (with John Stanley), Avon 30957
1979 - The Forza Trap, Avon 44552
1980 - Bogart ’48 (with John Stanley), Dell 10853
1981 - Dead to Rights, Avon 78295
1984 - Words Can Kill, Gold Medal 12667
1986 - Melting Point, Gold Medal 12901
1987 - Nijinsky Is Dead, Gold Medal 13096
1987 - As October Dies, Gold Medal 13097
1989 - Acts of Homicide, Gold Medal 13351
1990 - Blood of Poets, Gold Medal 13352


1978 - Nightmare in Blood (co-written and co-produced with John Stanley)


Baker, Robert; Nietzel, Michael; Pronzini, Bill (1985). Private Eyes: 101 Knights : A Survey of American Detective Fiction 1922-1984. Popular Press, 1. edition (January 1, 1985).
Hjortsberg, William (2013). Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan. Counterpoint, Reprint edition (February 12, 2013). p. 141.
"Kenn Davis, creator of PI Carver Bascombe, dies". Retrieved 29 May 2014.
Barber, John (2006). Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life. McFarland & Company (November 15, 2006).
John Tanner (1 October 2013). Landscapes of Language: the Achievement and Context of Richard Brautigan's Fiction. Humanities-Ebooks. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-1-84760-243-5.
John Cusatis (2010). Research Guide to American Literature. Infobase Publishing. pp. 107–. ISBN 978-1-4381-3405-5.
"Kenn Davis Memorial Blog". Retrieved 31 May 2014.
Bruce Finson (1968). Rolling renaissance: San Francisco underground art in celebration, 1945-1968. Intersection.
Jay Pearsall (1 March 1995). Mystery and Crime: The New York Public Library Book of Answers: Intriguing and Entertaining Questions and Answers About the Who's Who and Whats's. Touchstone. ISBN 978-0-671-87237-3.
Don Herron; Nancy Joyce Peters (1 March 1985). The literary world of San Francisco & its environs. City Lights Books. ISBN 978-0-87286-157-2.
Frankie Y. Bailey (1 January 1991). Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction. ABC-CLIO. pp. 82–. ISBN 978-0-313-26671-3.
"Edgar Award Winners and Nominees". Retrieved 3 June 2014.

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