Alan Davie RA
British painter, graphic artist, poet, musician, silversmith, and jeweller, born at Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, son of a painter and etcher. Davie studied at Edinburgh College of Art, 1937–40, and after serving in the Royal Artillery, 1941–6, had his first one-man show at Grant’s Bookshop, Edinburgh, in 1946. He then briefly worked as a professional jazz musician (he plays several instruments) before spending almost a year (1948–9) travelling in Europe. This gave him the chance to see works by Jackson *Pollock and other American painters in Peggy *Guggenheim’s gallery in Venice, and he was one of the first British painters to be affected by *Abstract Expressionism. Other influences on his eclectic but extremely personal style are African sculpture and Zen Buddhism.
His work is full of images suggestive of magic or mythology (some based on ancient forms, some of his own invention) and he uses these as themes around which—like a jazz musician—he spontaneously develops variations in exuberant colour and brushwork: ‘Although every work of mine must inevitably bear the stamp of my own personality, I feel that each one must, to be satisfactory, be a new revelation of something hitherto unknown to me, and I consider this evocation of the unknown to be the true function of any art.’ After his return to Britain in 1949, Davie settled in London, where he worked until 1953 as a jeweller. By the mid-1950s, however, he was gaining a considerable reputation as a painter (he has had regular one-man exhibitions at *Gimpel Fils Gallery since 1950), and in the 1960s this became international. His many awards have included the prize for the best foreign painter at the São Paulo *Bienal of 1963 and first prize at the International Graphics Exhibition, Cracow, in 1966. Retrospectives were held at the Barbican Art Gallery, London (1993), and Tate St Ives (2003). Since 1971 he has spent much of his time on the island of St Lucia and this has introduced Caribbean influences into his imagery. Further Reading A. Patrizio and S. D. McElroy, Alan Davie: Jingling Space (2003)