Study for a Figure Mask, No. 14, 1975

by Alan Davie


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DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 30.1 x 40.2 in./ 76.5 x 102.0 cm
SIGNATURE: Signed and dated lower right
MEDIUM: Mixed media on paper

This striking work by Davie, was painted in 1975, with the artist’s characteristically bright colours. It is highly reminiscent of another work of his, Study for a Figure Mask no. 24, (held in the National Galleries of Scotland) with its mesmerising tribal figures and its complex colour palette. Davie had a large collection of African, North-American Indian and Oceanic Art; a passion he developed in his twenties when he started to collect Indian art from junk shops in Edinburgh.

Catalogue No: 5377 Categories: ,

This work by Davie is one of his series which he produced after 1971 when his imagery took on a new direction, prompted by his spending part of each year living and working in St Lucia. The move brought about a new dialogue with the art of non-Western ancient cultures and changed the way he worked; in cycles of 12 months with six months at his studio in St Lucia producing prolific series of drawings and gouaches. The most magical of these images were then turned into oil paintings executed later at the artist’s Hertfordshire and Cornwall studios. Study for a Figure Mask no.23 was produced in Jamaica where his artistic style changed from loose brushwork to a more formal and structured composition and tighter handling of paint.

In a letter to Jeremy Lewison, Davie described art as being, ‘…a matter of making original magical things which has unique formal content’.

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. The themes of shape generation and the juxtaposition of turbulent and geometric shapes is central to work of this time.

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.







































If the artwork is up to £25,00 in value, and the artist is still alive, Trinity House can arrange a 0% interest loan through the Own Art scheme. Own Art is a Creative United initiative supported by Arts Council England, Creative Scotland and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Some other restrictions apply see…


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