As a young man Stuart Davis studied in New York from 1910 to 1913 with Robert Henri, whose teachings emphasized the importance of social subject matter, and from 1913 to 1916 he worked as a magazine illustrator for "The Masses" with John Sloan. By 1927 Davis had turned away from realism with his Cubist-inspired paintings, often including words and letters in his compositions. After a trip to Paris in 1928–29 he began to develop the style of nature-based abstraction that was to characterize his mature work. In the 1930s Davis taught at the Art Students League in New York and was employed by the mural division of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. Davis achieved recognition as a prominent American artist in the 1940s and 1950s with several important exhibitions, including retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in 1945 and the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1957 and a one-man installation at the Venice Biennale in 1952.
"Report from Rockport" is considered among Davis's most important canvases from the 1940s. It is a pivotal work, as it was the first in which he utilized his newly articulated "color-space" theory. Davis postulated that color could be used to indicate spatial relationships through its positioning next to other colors. Some colors advance, while others recede, which suggests the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface.
In this painting the profusion of colors, lines, shapes, and decorative patterns almost obscures identification of the scene — the town center at Rockport, Massachusetts, which the artist first depicted in "Town Square" of 1925–26 (Newark Museum, New Jersey). Both works are filled with gas pumps, trees, and storefronts. A yellow road leads the viewer's eye back to the garage, situated in the middle distance. In addition to these recognizable elements, the surface is covered with words, letters, and random lines that create an allover feeling of movement and speed. The disjunction of so many elements and colors successfully conveys the vitality of modern American life.