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Alan Davie

  • Alan Davie - Fairy Tree No. 8
    Alan Davie Fairy Tree No. 8 Full details

    CL 2265



    Grangemouth, Scotland 1920 – 2014 Herfordshire


    Fairy Tree No. 8


    Signed, dated and inscribed FAIRY TREE/NO.8/

    OPUS 0.696 SEPT 71/Alan Davie/SEPT 71 on the reverse

    Oil on canvas: 48 x 60 in / 121.9 x 152.4 cm

    Frame size: 49 ⅛ x 61 ⅛ in / 124.8 x 155.3 cm

    Opus 0.696



    Gimpel Fils, London [7783]

    The Davie family collection



    Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Magic and Strong Medicine, 1973, no. 12



    Fairy Tree is a magical series of eight paintings by Alan Davie, the first four made in gouache in August 1969, the final four painted in oil on canvas of different sizes in September 1971; the present work and Fairy Tree No.5 in the Tate collection belong to the latter. In a letter to the Tate dated 27th September 1974, Davie described the origin of the sequence as: ‘A very free watercolour mass’ that ran off the bottom of a sheet of paper suggesting to the artist a magical tree which he then incorporated into subsequent paintings, often transforming beyond recognition.[1] This malleable, tree-like form can be seen on the left of the painting, accompanied by a crescent moon, serpent and mask which became recurring symbols in Davies work at this time. Their bold, defined contours against a relatively flat ground reveal a greater sense of control and compositional structure than before. In comparison to the improvisatory approach and gestural application of paint in the 1950s, Davie’s work of the 1960s and ‘70s was more considered and clearly defined. By 1968 his enigmatic symbols proliferated, playing an increasingly important role, adding to the early triangles and diamonds, clubs, stripes, spirals, playing card motifs, birds and crescent moons. The new lucidity of Davie’s esoteric iconography was most likely a result of his change in practice, the improvisation previously played out on the picture surface now taking place at an earlier stage of drawing.


    Writing on the importance of magic in the artist’s work and the sources of his eclectic imagery, Michael Tucker revealed: ‘Magic is word which Davie often uses when talking about art : the magic of exaltation, of transformation – of the passage from isolation and depression to unity and affirmation, and from the exhaustion of history to the plenitude of origins…As is well known, the search for magic in painting has led Davie deep into what Jungians would call the collective unconscious ; one might say the same about the music he recorded between 1970 and 1975. It is possible to discern in Davie’s work echoes of ancient shamanic rites; Egyptian symbolism; Tantric art; the Western magical tradition, and a host of other cultures from neolithic Britain to aboriginal Australia, and from West Africa to Native America. And, throughout, there is the unmistakable mark of Davie’s own Celtic heritage, in both the luminosity of his colours and the organic interplay of his linear invention’.[2]








    Fairy Tree No.5, 1971 [T01584]

    Oil on canvas: 68 x 84 in, Tate Gallery




    RA CBE

    Grangemouth, Scotland 1920 – 2014 Herfordshire



    Alan Davie was born on 28th September 1920 at Grangemouth, Scotland, to a pianist mother and artist father. Davie studied at the Edinburgh College of Art from 1937 and was awarded the Andrew Grant Scholarship in 1938 and 1941. From 1941–46, Davie carried out his military service with the Royal Artillery, during which he received the Guthrie Award for best painting at the Royal Scottish Academy summer show of 1942. He also discovered a passion for writing and reading poetry, in particular the work of Walt Whitman. In 1945 the artist was impressed by exhibitions on Picasso and Klee which he visited while on leave in London. Demobilised from the army, Davie held his first one-man exhibition in a bookshop in Edinburgh in 1946. On a visit to London that same year, an exhibition of African sculpture inspired a profound interest in primitive art. The following year he married Janet (Bili) Gaul, an artist/potter, and became a full-time jazz musician, playing tenor saxophone with Tommy Sampson’s Orchestra. He also began making and selling silver jewellery (in 1951, jewellery designed by Davie was worn by Vivian Leigh in Anthony and Cleopatra). Davie took up his deferred scholarship and travelled throughout Europe in the late 1940s through France, Switzerland, Spain and Italy, holding exhibitions in Florence and Venice, where he met and sold a painting to Peggy Guggenheim in 1948. Guggenheim also showed Davie her important collection of modern art, which may have been his first glimpse of American Abstract Expressionism. In 1950 he held his first solo show at Gimpel Fils, London and exhibited there every two years after that. Davie bought a cottage in Landsend, also in 1950, which he visited during the following summers. In 1954 the artist converted stables at Gamels, Hertfordshire into a home and studio.


    Davie’s first American exhibition was held at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York in 1956, which he attended, meeting Abstract Expressionists Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, purchased paintings from the exhibition.  The artist’s interest in Zen Buddhism, inspired by Eugen Herrigel’s book Zen in the Art of Archery, developed from the mid-1950s along with the Jungian idea of the collective unconscious, animating his intuitive, improvisatory approach to painting. Davie taught at the Central School of Art from 1953-56 and from 1956–59 at Leeds College of Art, having been awarded the Gregory Fellowship at Leeds University. Two retrospectives of Davie’s work were held in 1958, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (which made an impact on David Hockney) and Wakefield Art Gallery. Retrospectives were also subsequently held in 1993 at the Barbican Gallery, London and in 2003 at Tate St Ives. During the 1960s, he took up gliding and experimented with lithography. He also produced the first of several records by the Alan Davie Music Workshop. In 1963, Davie exhibited in the British section of the Bienal at São Paulo, Brazil, winning the award for best foreign painter. Alan Bowness published his monograph of the artist with Lund Humphries in 1967. Davie was awarded a CBE in 1972 and was commissioned the same year by the architect Peter Haupt to paint the Berlin School Murals. He also produced tapestry and mosaic designs, the latter for his home town, Grangemouth, for which he was awarded the Saltire Award in 1977. From the late 1970s, Davie began spending winters in St Lucia. He was elected a Senior Royal Academician in 2012 and was the subject of a BP Spotlight display at Tate Britain in 2014, featuring the eight oil paintings by Davie in their collection.


    [1] The artist cited on the Tate website entry for Fairy Tree No. 5 [T01584] and published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972-1974, London, 1975.

    [2] M. Tucker, ‘Music Man’s Dream’, Alan Davie, Lund Humphries, London, 1992, p. 80.

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