Alan Davie, 1920-2014


Alan Davie is one of Britain’s most internationally acclaimed artists and is Scotland’s most important artist of the twentieth century.

Harnessing his engagement with jazz, Zen Buddhism and prehistoric cultures, his innovative drawings and paintings are the result of a highly improvisatory process that place emphasis on free association and artistic intuition.

Working quickly and typically on the floor, he developed an ornamental style, Davie’s work takes us on a journey into different times and places. Like Pollock, many of Davie’s works were executed by standing above the painting, which was laid on the ground. He added layers of paint until sometimes the original painting had been covered over many times. Despite the speed at which he worked (he usually had several paintings on the go at once), however, he was adamant that his images are not pure abstraction, but all have significance as symbols.

For over 65 years Davie exhibited in the UK and internationally, with work held in many of the world’s major public collections including MoMA, New York; Tate, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. He died, aged 93 in Hertfordshire in 2014 just before a display of his work curated by Helen Little opened at Tate Britain, London. 

Alan Davie was born in Grangemouth, Scotland in 1920. Davie began his career as a poet and jazz musician before becoming a painter, combining these disciplines throughout the rest of his career. He had an insatiable curiosity for life and fervent will to create as David Bowie. He was as much in his element as jazz musician, scuba diver, gliding enthusiast, jewellery maker and poet as he was as painter. This may have been one of the reasons that Bowie was drawn to this free-spirited artist and bought several paintings for his private collection.

As early as 1958 Davie emphasised the importance in his work of intuition, as expressed in the form of enigmatic symbols. These symbols have combined to make him one of the most potent image-makers in post-war British art.

By 1961, when Peter’s Joy-Pit was painted, Davie had been recognised internationally as a new radical force in modern painting. Already with a New York show to his name, retrospectives at both the Wakefield City Art Gallery and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, and having represented Great Britain at the XXIX Venice Biennale in 1958, he was hailed by critic Alan Bowness as, alongside Francis Bacon, one of the most influential artists of his time.

He died in 2014 having been the first British artist to develop such an expressive form of abstraction.