Galleries - July 2011

technique but also pushed for- ward the intellectual and critical discourse.” Davie’s achievement, observ- able time and again in works like Black Column for a Mathematician (1952), Heavenly Bridge no3 (1960) or Tasty Morsel for a Mon- key (1963) was to synthesize the- se two, often oppositional app- roaches within one picture plane. He was, moreover, able to go on doing it in no less radical ways for the rest of a career that will surely come to be seen, before very muchlonger, as among the most significant of all 20/21st Century artistic journeys made by a British artist. And he might just be the painter that a younger generation, very much in the throes of evolv- ing an abstract/figurative hybrid, need to get a taste of too . . . EdinburghCollege of Art and after four years war service, he was de- mobilised and went on a delayed voyage of self-education, travel- ling in post-war Europe on an art school scholarship in 1947. Apart from providing a first encounter withModernism, it was in fact his discovery of the Italian Primitives and non-European and ethnic art that seems really to have stirred his imagination. It was also a meeting, in 1948, withPeggy Guggenheim in Venice who bou- ght a painting of his, that provided the next stage in his early education, a trip to the USA in the early 50s that brought him into direct contact withthe leading figures of Abstract Expressionism and gave him exhibitions there that established his credentials with them immediately. As the painter and close Davie friend Christopher P. Wood has recently argued, it is in the dichotomy “between these two epic sensi- bilities . . . the attempt to reconcile, on the one hand, the raw intuitive energy and liquid mark-making of American abstraction withthe Eur- opean impulse for coherent im- agery on the other which not only provided the impetus for the innovations he was to forge in his 10. GALLERIES JULY 11 At a moment when contemporary painting seems to be entering an era of unmistakably renewed vit- ality – think Saatchi, Marmite Prize etc – one in which the old, often rigid, even moralistic boundaries between abstraction and figura- tion seem to have become dis- tinctly porous, if not invisible, to a younger generation of artists, it perhaps shouldn’t be any surprise that that sprightliest of 90 year-old painters, Alan Davie, is currently enjoying something of an annus mirabilis in this, his birthday year. A celebratory show at his long- term dealers, Gimpel Fils was fol- lowed in April by a big exhibition at King’s Place and now, as well as a show in his native country at Open Eye (paintings, prints and brushdrawings, June 24 to July 12), comes this substantial survey at Alan Wheatley of some 32 paintings from the first two dec- ades of a career that spans an astonishing eight. In doing so Davie’s art can now be seen as, among other things, representing the most remarkable syntheses of some of the major, often appar- ently conflicting, tides of 20/21st Century painting to be found anywhere on the current scene. That pattern of absorbtion and synthesis was established right at the start of his career when, as a young, properly, but essentially conservatively trained student at ALAN DAVIE Uncovering the Hidden Unknown Nicholas Usherwood . . . it was in fact his discovery of the Italian Primitives . . . A lanDavie ‘Sacred Cow Meditation 2’ at Open Eye. ‘Black Column for a Mathematician’ at Alan Wheatley