Alan Davie

Entrance to a Paradise

1949

Medium
Oil paint on board
Dimensions
Support: 1518 x 1210 mm
frame: 1530 x 1220 x 40 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1972
Reference
T01526

Display caption

An interest in the subconscious world runs through Davie’s work. This layered painting is an accumulation of spontaneously applied marks. The result is a picture in which line and colour no longer describe shapes but operate as autonomous pictorial elements. For Davie the separation of these elements from their traditional descriptive function required him constantly to paint over images until, almost by chance, he struck upon the right one. He described these as ‘rare magical moments when I was completely surprised and enraptured beyond all knowing’.

Gallery label, September 2016

Catalogue entry

Alan Davie b. 1920

T01526 Entrance to Paradise 1949

Inscribed ‘59¿ x 47¿/Alan Davie 1949/ENTRANCE TO A PARADISE’ on back of board.
Oil on chipboard, 59¾ x 47¿ (151.8 x 121).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1972.
Exh: Wakefield City Art Gallery, March 1958 (13); University of Nottingham, April-May 1958 (10); Whitechapel Art Gallery, June–August 1958 (14); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, September–October 1958 (12); Recent Paintings by Seven British Artists, British Council exhibition touring Australia, 1959 (1); Recent Paintings by Six British Artists, British Council exhibition to Mexico, i960 (1); Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, June–July 1965 (5); Usher Gallery, Lincoln, January 1966 (3); Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh, June 1968 (10).
Lit: Alan Bowness, Alan Davie, 1967, No. 30, p. 135, repr.

Alan Davie spent 1948–49 touring Europe. He exhibited in 1948 in Venice where he saw Peggy Guggenheim’s collection, which included a number of works by Jackson Pollock, then returned to England in the spring of 1949.

He has written (letter of 24 April 1972): ‘The picture was painted in New Barnet shortly after our return from the continent. At that time I had been doing a lot of work on paper using automatic techniques and collage, etc., and continued to be fascinated by lines on paper, made with ink and pieces of twig or grasses—how the lines seemed to make a spatial illusion. At the same time I was making mobiles with grass stems—very elaborate and fragile—we had several hanging from the ceiling and they moved continuously—being made in such a way that each piece never touched another, but had completely free range of movement. The interest in life in space led me to do several sculptures with wire and plaster (later destroyed). It is interesting to note that Paolozzi was doing the same thing then without my having seen it.’

‘I think my work was more related to Paul Klee and Arp [than to that of American Abstract Expressionists like Pollock]—they had a poetic feeling and a childlike magic which was closest to my own feelings.

‘The process of painting was very distinctive—layer upon layer destroying what was underneath—and always working spontaneously and automatically—so of all the works done, very little was kept—only those images which happened in the rare magical moments when I was completely surprised and “enraptured beyond knowing". At that time I felt I had liberated line—being no longer bound to the delineation of forms—so that colour and line were quite separate and interacting one on the other.’

Already while in Venice he had painted two other pictures ‘Pagan Dance’ and ‘Music for Pagan Dance’ which have a similar grid-like structure composed of ambiguous overlapping layers. He added: ‘The title “Entrance to a Paradise” was, as always, given to the picture some time after it was painted. There is no conscious interaction of specific evocation or association. The image seemed to me to suggest some kind of “way in” to a mysterious and joyous world of colour and light.

‘My titles are really poetic interpretations of the visual image and not meant to be taken literally.’

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

Article

Alan Davie: Entrance to a Paradise

Essay on the painter Alan Davie accompanying his BP Spotlight display at Tate Britain during 2014