News Flash: New book 'Alan Davie in Hertford' is being launched at a special event at the Barbican on Wed 13 Apr 2022, 20:00.
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Alan Davie

Alan Davie was born in Grangemouth, Scotland in 1920. Davie began his career as a poet and jazz musician before becoming a painter, combining these disciplines throughout the rest of his career. Harnessing his engagement with jazz, Zen Buddhism and prehistoric cultures, his innovative drawings and paintings are the result of a highly improvisatory process that place emphasis on free association and artistic intuition.

Alan Davie: Sunbirds and Skybands
Exhibition Opening Times
Wednesdays, Thursdays – 1.00pm-5.00pm
Saturdays – 11.00am-3.00pm

For over 65 years Davie exhibited in the UK and internationally, with work held in many of the world’s major public collections including MoMA, New York; Tate, London; Victoria & Albert Museum, London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. He died, aged 93 in Hertfordshire in 2014 just before a display of his work curated by Helen Little opened at Tate Britain, London.

Hertford Arts Hub hosts a program of events in partnership with Hertford Theatre, Hertford Library and The University of Hertfordshire. Open to everyone and celebrating the town’s art, culture and people, it takes its inspiration from the work of the British painter, poet and musician Alan Davie (1920-2014), who for over 50 years worked from his home and studio in nearby Rush Green.

This display, which continues until further notice, traces the development of Davie’s practice over the last sixty years, highlighting particular moments in his visual journey. Loaned from the artist’s estate, it features seldom seen drawings and paintings whose kaleidoscopic medleys of gestures, forms and signs celebrate a world of imagination beyond the reality of the now.

Harnessing the artist’s engagement with poetry, jazz and the art of ancient cultures, Davie’s images are the result of a highly improvisatory process in which the artist has combed his subconscious, allowing intuition to guide his responses. Drawn from a wealth of sources, they reach into our collective thoughts and feelings, bringing people together regardless of time, gender, race or background. From his abstract canvases of the 1950s and 60s that draw attention to the materiality of paint and the physical gesture of the artist to later paintings that harness potent mystical symbols and text, Davie’s work demonstrates his commitment to art as a search for beauty that grows naturally with the rhythms of the mind and body.

With plans underway by Herford Arts Hub to establish a new public gallery with a permanent collection of the artist’s work for the town, this is a timely opportunity to celebrate Davie’s legacy.

Curated by Helen Little.


Alan Davie – Chronology


Born Grangemouth, Scotland. Son of painter Cedric Davie and musician Elizabeth.

1937 – 40

Edinburgh College of Art.


War service in the Royal Artillery.


Received Guthrie Award for the best painting by a young artist at the Royal Scottish Academy summer exhibition.


Reads Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; also Eliot, Pound, Lawrence, Joyce, Chinese poems. Begins to write poetry and plays saxophone in jazz groups.


First one-man exhibition in Edinburgh. Visits London and sees African sculpture at Berkeley Galleries, significant interest in primitive art begins.


Becomes full time jazz tenor saxophonist playing with Tommy Sampson’s Orchestra touring and broadcasting. October – marries Janet (Bili) Gaul, an artist-potter. Begins making and selling jewellery.

1948 – 9

Travels extensively in Europe. Contact with Peggy Guggenheim who buys work and fosters his future career. Relationship with Gimpel Fils Gallery through Charles and Peter Gimpel after introduction letter from Peggy Guggenheim. Birth of daughter.


First one-man exhibition at Gimpel Fils.


Jewellery worn by Vivien Leigh in Anthony and Cleopatra.


Converted a stable block at Gamel’s, Rush Green, near Hertford into a house with working studio.

First time ‘primitive’ sources appeared in his work.


Develops interest in Zen Buddhism and oriental mysticism.


Winning international recognition. Visited New York for first US one-man exhibition at Catherine Viviano Gallery – exhibition sells out. Paintings purchased by Museum of Modern Art. Meets Pollock, Kline, De Kooning, Motherwell and Rothko. Excited by indigenous art at American Natural History Museum. Awarded Gregory Fellowship in Painting at the University of Leeds (until 1959) and becomes Visiting Tutor at Leeds College of Art.


Elected a member of the London Group of artists.


Retrospective at Wakefield, transferred to Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. purchased by Tate Gallery.


Permanently resident in Hertfordshire and in cottage in Cornwall. Teaching at Central School of Arts and Crafts.


Takes up gliding.


One-man exhibition in British section of Sao Paulo Bienal, Brazil – awarded prize for best foreign painter.


Work features in Antonioni’s film Blow Up.


Alan Davie, edited by Alan Bowness published.


Invited to produce poster for Munich Olympic Games.


3 records published. Awarded CBE in Queen’s Birthday Honours.


Buys ‘pole house’ with walls that folded back, overlooking sea in Coulibri, St Lucia, Caribbean.


Developed interest in pre-historic petroglyphs and visited these in St Lucia and Venezuela.


Visit to Australia, exhibition in Sydney. Lectures in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, inspired by Aboriginal art seen there.


Developed interest in Jain cosmology and its images which were developed into series of paintings.


Invited by Niki de Saint Phalle to paint a mural in the interior of the head of Il Mago (magician) in her Tarot garden in Garavicchio, Tuscany.


visited Venezuela after contact with Jeannine Sujo Volsky and inspired by her book on drawn Carib petroglyphs. Went to Caracas and visited villages.


Undertakes series of Hopi Studies paintings and gouaches, inspired by a book on American Indian Hopi pottery.


Royal College of Art Convocation: Senior Fellow; lecture at Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol – Nature of Colour Conference organized by Richard Bright.


Retrospectives at Barbican Gallery in London and also Chicago.


Makes 50 black gouache drawings for Charles Booth-Clibborn for a limited edition version of Alan Davie Drawings published by Paragon Press.


Retrospective at Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.


Death of Bili


Elected Senior Royal Academician.


Alan Davie dies on 5 April. Tate Britain exhibition opens 14 April.



Elliott, Patrick (2000) Alan Davie Work in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland)

Hall, D and Tucker, M in collaboration with Alan Davie, Bili Davie and Gimpel Fils (1992) Alan Davie (London: Lund Humphries )

Hudson, Mark Obituary of Alan Davie (6 April 2014) Telegraph

Tucker, Michael (ed) (1993) Alan Davie The Quest for the Miraculous (London: Lund Humphries)

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