Harnessing his engagement with jazz, Zen Buddhism and prehistoric cultures, Davie’s images emerge from networks of spontaneous forms and symbols that often overlap and obscure each other until the final composition is revealed.
From his abstract canvases of the 1940s and 50s 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 (who died in april 2014) demonstrated his commitment to art as a search for inner beauty that grows naturally with the rhythms of the mind and body.
Davie, born in Grangemouth (on the River Forth) in 1920, is celebrated for being one of the first British artists after the Second World War to develop an expressive form of abstraction.
He began as a poet and jazz musician before becoming a painter, combining these disciplines throughout his career.
In 1961, Davie’s jewellery was featured in at London’s Goldsmith’s Hall, a milestone in the history of jewellery making in Britain where an impressive roster of international and British artists including Alexander Calder, Naum Gabo, Victor Pasmore and John Mc Hale appeared in a section on ‘Modern Work by Sculptors and Painters’.2The power and mystery of jazz, which Davie believed to be the creative medium of the 1940s, was a continual source in his search for ‘the mystery of life’.
His painting process, which the artist compared to Paul Klee’s famous statement that drawing is ‘taking a line for a walk’, is not unlike that of a jazz musician improvising melody and rhythm.
Expressive in their own right, 1948 (fig.1) were the foundation of Davie’s fascination with automatism, chance and the unexpected, their spindly, biomorphic forms suggesting the growth of microscopic life.
Davie’s works on paper are less well known but have played a vital role in the development of his art, enabling him to liberate subconscious actions and ideas and generate new kinds of images.
Having relinquished painting to focus on jewellery making and jazz, in the spring of 1948 Davie and his wife Bili took up a deferred art school travel scholarship and set off around Europe.
Unlike other British artists who made straight for Paris and stayed there, Davie ventured further afield.