Alan Davie’s activity as a painter is often described as resembling that of shamanistic artists of remote times engaged in conjuring up visions linked to mysterious and spiritual forces. His paintings are the result of an improvisatory process, their gestures and biomorphic forms celebrating a world of imagination and beauty at odds with the common view of the alienation and disaffection of the post-war milieu.
Harnessing his engagement with jazz, Zen Buddhism and prehistoric cultures, in Davie’s earlier work the images emerge from networks of spontaneous forms that often overlap and obscure each other until the final composition is revealed. From his abstract canvases of the 1940s and 1950s that draw attention to the materiality of paint and the physical gesture of the artist to later works with their mystical symbols and text, Davie’s painting demonstrates his commitment to art as a search for inner beauty that grows naturally with the rhythms of mind and body.
This display, showcasing all eight of Davie’s paintings in Tate’s collection, accompanied by material from the artist’s personal archive, is a timely opportunity to reassess his unique visual language. It traces the development of Davie’s practice over sixty years, highlighting key moments in his visual journey.