Tate Etc

Alan Davie's Celtic Dreamboat I 1965 Tate Britain Rehang

Tate Etc. invited a selection of contemporary artists featured in the new rehang of British art at Tate Britain to choose a favoured work from a fellow artist – past or present – also on display. Here, Jann Haworth discusses Alan Davie's Celtic Dreamboat I 1965

Like Tom Waits, Alan Davie doesn’t fit into art zones. Not abstract, not figurative, not outsider art, but studied at the rigorous Edinburgh College of Art, uses line but is a painter, neglects design but embraces pattern, femme but male. Jazz musician, jeweller, poet… shape-shifter.

He offers the viewer his dynamic arcade of invention, original mark-making inch by inch across the canvas and layer on layer in a sort of geological palimpsest of change in the visual, wordless story of image-making. Early Richard Lindner paintings had this layer-on-layer image morph. For my eyes, it’s like watching the painter dress. Or, in reverse, I can undress the layered event to look intimately through the changes, trying to deduce what he was up to in earlier painting moments.

Trying to catch this work, or any other by Davie, in a net of words is like trying to recall a dream on walking… as it sinks water-like into the sand. Celtic Dreamboat drifts on, the Flying Scotsman at its helm. I just need to watch.

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