Guardian Spirit for a Voyage by Night, 1958

by Alan Davie

Davie was uniformly pantheistic in his approach, seeking inspiration in runes, symbols and the mystical which cannot be easily comprehended by our modern Western eyes. In pursuing these spiritual interests entirely independently, the resulting artwork appears alien to and exists outside any structured artistic movement or stylistic tradition.

DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 45.7 x 57.9 cm/18.0 x 22.8 ins
SIGNATURE: Signed ‘Alan Davie’ and dated (upper right)
MEDIUM: Oil on paper and laid down on canvas

Catalogue No: 5822 Categories: ,

Regarded by many as Scotland’s most respected painter of the post-war period, Alan Davie was an artist known and highly regarded by his American contemporaries. Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock famously held a party in his honour in 1956 when Davie visited New York for his first American exhibition. The artist is also cited as being a major influence on the work of David Hockney. Yet despite being celebrated as an equal, if not revered by these household names, Davie’s genius is comparatively unsung. Patronage from Gimpel Fils and support from Peggy Guggenheim secured Davie moderate career success and some international acclaim in the 1950s and 1960s. However, even with his academic recognition and numerous retrospectives, it was only in the final decade of the artist’s life that many collectors started to take notice of his prodigious talent.

with Gimpel Fils, London, where purchased by Mrs Renée Weiler, August 1969.
Anonymous sale; New York, 24 June 1998, lot 11.
Anonymous sale; New York, 7 June 1999, lot 173.
Anonymous sale; London, 5 April 2000, lot 210.
Anonymous sale; London, 7 June 2007, lot 430,
Private Collection, United Kingdom

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Born in Scotland in 1920, Alan Davie studied at Edinburgh College of Art between 1937 and 1940. In 1945 he saw the Tate’s exhibition of Picasso and Paul Klee, which changed the direction and reformed his work from that point onwards.

After 1949 he adopted Jackson Pollock’s technique of rapid painting on canvas. Like Pollock, many of Davie’s works have been executed by standing above the painting, which is laid on the ground. He adds layers of paint until sometimes the original painting has been covered over many times. However, despite the speed at which he worked, he was adamant that his images are not pure abstraction, but all have significance as symbols.

Davie 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.

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 had assimilated the spontaneity which Zen emphasises. Declaring that the spiritual path is incompatible with planning ahead, he attempted to paint as automatically as possible, which intended to bring forth elements of his unconscious.

Davie’s paintings can be seen in galleries and museums worldwide including the Tate and the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art.

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