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 his best work.
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 works, he is 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 of 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 has assimilated the spontaneity which Zen emphasises. Declaring that the spiritual path is incompatible with planning ahead, he has attempted to paint as automatically as possible, which is intended to bring forth elements of his unconscious.
Davie’s paintings can be seen in galleries and museums worldwide; in Britain these include the Tate and the Scottish National Museum of Modern Art.