Magic Pictures
By Alan Davie

Subject Matter
Reg. Number
96.5 x 79 cm

This lithograph print immediately grabs your attention. In the background, blocks of bold colours are filled with spots and stripes, the figures in the foreground appear to be floating. All the blocks and figures are neatly delineated with a black line which makes them really stand out. The overall effect is joyous but closer inspection leads to a surrealist conundrum.

Designed as a poster, it was created for an exhibition organised in 1979 by The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh to showcase Alan Davie's series of 'Magic Pictures' which reflect his search for a universal imagery. Inspired by Zen Buddhism and Carl Jung's analysis of dreams, Alan aims to access a timeless and universal collective memory through his working process by suppressing his rational and conscious self and by allowing his intuitive self to take over.

Alan Davie (1920 - 2014) was born in Grangemouth and trained at Edinburgh College of Art. Alan Davie is celebrated for being one of the first British artists after the Second World War to develop an expressive form of abstraction. The 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’.

Back in Britain during the early 1950s, a time when British artists had limited exposure to the latest painting from America, Davie earned the reputation of being the nearest thing in Britain to an American Abstract Expressionist. Yet Davie always maintained that he was a Scottish artist and it is interesting to consider his work in the context of the abstract decoration of his Celtic tradition rather than in that of modernist American painting. During the 1960s when his work started to gain critical and commercial success, Davie’s improvisatory paintings continued to harness his engagement with jazz, Zen Buddhism and prehistoric cultures as well as his pursuits of fast cars, gliding, scuba diving and sailing that as powerful extensions of the body brought him closer to nature.

During the later 1960s when a younger generation of British artists were renegotiating action painting and moving towards post-painterly abstraction, Davie’s art began to shift towards a postmodern revival of figuration, narrative and mythology. His paintings took on a new direction during the 1970s when the artist spent part of each year living and working on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. The move brought about a fresh dialogue with the art of ancient cultures, enabling the artist to tap into cosmologies less understood in the western world, his lyrical brushwork disappearing altogether in favour of more formally controlled cornucopias of pictograms, symbols and text.
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