Catalogue entry

T03815 Village Myths No.36 1983

Oil on canvas 84 × 68 (2135 × 1730)
Inscribed ‘Alan Davie/june 83’ and ‘village myths no 36/84’ × 68"/opus 01019 june 83' on back of canvas and ‘36 JUNE 83’ on stretcher
Purchased from Gimpel Fils (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Alan Davie, Village Myths and Other Works, Gimpel Fils, September–October 1983 (15)
Lit: Waldemar Janusczak, in Alan Davie, Village Myths and Other Works, exhibition catalogue, Gimpel Fils, 1983; Dore Ashton, ‘On Alan Davie’, in Alan Davie, Village Myths and Other Recent Paintings, Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, New York, March–April 1984

The following entry is based on a conversation with the artist on 29 April 1986 and a letter of 9 June 1986, and has been approved by him. The numbering and dates of the works were established by reference to records at Gimpel Fils gallery.

‘Village Myths’ is the overall title of a group of thirty gouaches (Nos. 1 to 30) and sixteen oil paintings (Nos. 31 to 46) produced by Alan Davie between November 1982 and August 1983.

The title is simply a way of naming the series and no reference to any particular myth is intended.

The oils were painted quickly: no.31, and probably nos.32 and 33, in May 1983; nos. 34–6 in June; nos.37–40 in July, and nos.41–6 in August. The Tate's painting is based on two gouaches, no.12 (January 1983) and particularly no.25 (February 1983), from which it differs in only a few details. Both gouaches are in the same private collection in Los Angeles.

The ‘Village Myths’ paintings are one of the groups of work which Davie produced in the following way. He works in cycles of twelve months, passing alternate six month periods at his studios in St Lucia and in Rush Green, Hertfordshire. He has had a studio in St Lucia for twelve years, and this is where each new body of work originates. Davie embarks upon a series of automatic drawings using black ink on paper, applied with a brush. At this stage there is no conscious control over the free flow of the images; he has no preconceptions about the paintings that will eventually be produced, and no idea or message to convey. Davie mentions Klee's well known recommendation of ‘going for a walk with a line’, and also compares the process to his improvisations as a musician:

I can sit down at the piano and just play a few notes. Before I know it, I am entering a world of ideas which are presenting themselves to me out of the manipulation of sounds: with drawings ideas evolve out of just making marks on paper, and henceforth improvisations are evolving using these ideas and developing them into larger gouaches in colour and further developed eventually in large oils. Each medium dictates certain changes according to its own inherent qualities.

The drawings are produced over a period of about one month, and the gouaches are worked on throughout the remaining months in St Lucia. The ‘Village Myths’ gouaches were made between November 1982 and April 1983.

The oil paintings are executed at the artist's Rush Green studio, and are based on what he feels to be the most powerful ‘magic’ imagery from the gouaches. Davie confirms that he felt the horned figure in the Tate Gallery's painting to be a particularly potent and curious image. It is not based on an object he has seen. He also says that the text in the picture, in common with that in most of his work, is a nonsense language.

Asked about the influence of Indian art in the ‘Village Myths’ paintings, Davie agrees that there are Indian elements in them, but emphasises that such elements are used intuitively and that there is no symbolic meaning to them in his paintings. He is increasingly often asked about the symbolism or meaning of his work, where there is none. He has been interested in ancient cultures, especially Zen Buddhism and Tantric art, for many years. ‘I feel free to steal ideas from other cultures.’ He recalls seeing, two years ago (therefore after ‘Village Myths’ were painted), diagrams of the Jain (a Buddhist sect) cosmology at the Navin Kumar Gallery, New York. These, and the illustrations in the book The Jain Cosmology (1981), published by Ravi Kumar, have become what he describes as ‘a new obsession’. His subsequent series of paintings, ‘Meditations and Hallucinations’ (1983–5), derives from it.

Reiterating that he is not trying to express anything specific in his art, Davie adds that the pictures ‘are open to poetic interpretation, and should work as a magical experience’. When asked about a possible link between the clear and explicit way the imagery is presented in the painting, and the way one sees very clearly in dreams, he observes that his ‘pictures are not like dreams, they are dreams’.

There are works from ‘Village Myths’ in private collections in the United Kingdom, USA, Venezuela and Morocco, and at the McLauren Art Gallery, Ayr.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986