Davis lived and painted for most of his live in Washington, DC, where he was also a newspaperman who covered the White House and frequently played poker with Harry S. Truman.
As a painter, he worked out of a studio on Pennsylvania Avenue. His first exhibition of paintings was in 1953, and in the 1960s he was included in the "Washington Color Painters" exhibit that began at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art and then traveled to other venues around the country. Davis was a key figure in the Washington Color School regional movement that included leading color field painter. Though he worked in a variety of media and styles, Davis is best known for his acrylic paintings mostly on canvas of colorful vertical stripes, which he began to paint in 1958. In 1965, he participated in the “Washington Color Painters” exhibition at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in Washington, D.C., which traveled around the U.S. and launched the recognition of the Washington Color School as a regional movement in which Davis was a central figure. Davis began teaching in 1966 at the Corcoran School of Art, where he became a permanent member of the faculty. In 1974, Davis was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. In 1984, he was appointed the commissioner of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. His work may be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York, NY; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA. Gene Davis died in April of 1985 in Washington, D.C. Mr. Morrison noted that in 1972 Davis created the world's largest artwork, Franklin's Footpath, painting color stripes on the street in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also was credited with creating the world's largest painting, Niagara (43,680 square feet), as well as “micro paintings," some as small as 3/8 of an inch square. Davis died on April 6, 1985 at age 65.