Alan Davie

James Alan Davie (28 September 1920 – 5 April 2014) was a Scottish painter and musician.


Davie was born in Grangemouth in 1920[1] and studied at Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1930s.[2] An early exhibition of his work came through the Society of Scottish Artists.

After the Second World War, Davie played tenor saxophone in the Tommy Sampson Orchestra, which was based in Edinburgh but broadcast and toured in Europe.[3] Davie travelled widely and in Venice became influenced by other painters of the period, such as Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock and Joan Miró, as well as by a wide range of cultural symbols.[1] In particular, his painting style owes much to his affinity with Zen. Having read Eugen Herrigel's book Zen in the Art of Archery (1953), he assimilated the spontaneity which Zen emphasises.[4]:34 Declaring that the spiritual path is incompatible with planning ahead, he attempted to paint as automatically as possible, which was intended to bring forth elements of his unconscious.[5] In this, he shared a vision with surrealist painters such as Miró, and he was also fascinated by the work of psychoanalyst Carl Jung.[4]:32

Like Pollock, many of Davie's works were executed by standing above the painting, which was laid on the ground.[4]:35 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.[5] Championing the primitive, he saw the role of the artist as akin to that of the shaman, and remarked upon how disparate cultures have adopted common symbols in their visual languages.

In addition to painting, whether on canvas or paper (he has stated that he prefers to work on paper), Davie produced several screenprints. He found a public for his work on the continent and in America some time before the British art public could reconcile itself to his mixture of ancient and newly invented symbols and his explosive brushwork. His paintings appear at once apocalyptic and triumphant. In his lectures Davie stressed the importance of improvisation as his chosen method. His stance was that of an inspired soothsayer resisting the inroads of rational civilization.[6]

Musically, Davie also played piano, cello and bass clarinet. In the early 1970s his interest in free improvisation led to a close association with the percussionist Tony Oxley.[7] His paintings have also inspired music by others, notably the bassist and composer Barry Guy.[8][9]

Davie designed the jacket for R.W. Feachem's book Prehistoric Scotland, published by Batsford in 1963. The design was based upon motifs found on Pictish symbol stones. He died aged 93 in Hertfordshire, England on 5 April 2014.[10][11]

Art collections

Art collections and museums owning work by Alan Davie include the Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Galleries of Scotland, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Tate Gallery, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, Harvard University Art Museums, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, The Priseman Seabrook Collection, San Diego Museum of Art, Southampton City Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield and Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum.

Portraits of Alan Davie

A photographic portrait exists in both the National Portrait Gallery collection[12] and Gimpel Fils, a modern and contemporary art gallery in Mayfair.[13] Also, there is a John Bellany painting in the National Galleries of Scotland.[14]


  1. "Davie, Alan". FMP/Free Music Production. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  2. Livingstone, Cheryl (16 June 2010). "New exhibition celebrates Grangemouth artist". Falkirk Herald. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  3. Gilchrist, Jim (23 April 2008). "Leader of the band". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  4. Hare, Bill (2019). Scottish Artists in an Age of Radical Change. Luath Press. ISBN 9781912147915.
  5. "Past Exhibitions: Alan Davie: Jingling Space". Tate St Ives. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  6. Lynton, Norbert (1983). The Story of Modern Art. Prentice Hall.
  7. "Tony Oxley Biography: New Interests". Index of Musicians Biographies. Archived from the original on 3 September 2008. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  8. "Barry Guy". British Composers Project. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  9. "Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra with Barry Guy: Falkirk" (PDF). FMR Records. Retrieved 2 September 2008.
  10. "Alan Davie, Scottish artist, has died aged 93". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  11. Weber, Bruce (16 April 2014). "Alan Davie, Painter With a Global Bent, Dies at 93". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  12. "Portrait - Alan Davie". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  13. "Gimpel Fils - London". Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  14. "John Bellany, b. 1942. Artist (Self-portrait) (with Alan Davie, b. 1920)". National Galleries of Scotland. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
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