Celebrating one of our best artists

James Coxson gets the exhibition ready
James Coxson gets the exhibition ready

When Alan Davie died on April 5, 2014 the world lost a truly original artist and one of the most creative men who ever lived.

James Coxson also lost a good friend when the Grangemouth-born painter passed away at the age of 93 and now he is curator for the first exhibition of the artist’s work since his death.

Alan Davie: A Universal Vision will run at Falkirk’s Park Gallery, in Callendar House, from September 13 to October 31. It is a real celebration of Alan’s life and work and features paintings which stretch from the very start of his artistic career in 1948 right up to 2000, when he had been a world renowned painter for over half-a-century.

“The work was picked for its visual impact – the ‘oomph’,” said James (59). “He was always respected by other artists, that never faltered. Alan would love it if the people who come to this exhibition knew about his work, but also if people of all ages, schoolchildren to pensioners, who knew nothing about him come and see these images and react to them with their heart in an instinctive way.

“The love of living is the thing I will always remember most about him.”

Edinburgh-born James gave the eulogy at Alan’s funeral and was a real admirer of his work. He even gifted one of his own Alan Davie paintings, a work entitled Horse Flies, to the Park Gallery so it could remain on permanent display after the exhibition ends.

“I first became aware of Alan in 1972 when my father took me to an exhibition. I had no background in art, but I loved the shapes and the colours in his work and the fact there was no explanation for his paintings.

“What does it mean? No one knew. I was only 17 at that time but I thought why don’t people just accept these paintings for what they are? That was something Alan believed in – simply looking at the painting and immersing yourself in it.

“He never believed in too much planning, it was more of an intuitive process of working for Alan. He took his love of jazz music and moved the improvisational aspects of it to his art – he started paintings without knowing how they would end up looking when he was finished.

“It was this improvisation method he tapped into that got him going again as an artist, because he hadn’t done any paintings for a while.”

James said Alan was never influenced by trends and did his own thing, even when that meant his work was viewed by some as being old fashioned and out of touch.

“He didn’t mind if his work made money, although he did like spending it when he had it on his gliding and other hobbies. He is one of the greatest artists that Britain has ever produced, but people have not caught on to that fact.

“People like to categorise artists and art like Alan’s cannot be categorised.”

Alan’s adventurous hobbies, which included sailing and gliding, found their way into his work, just like his love of poetry and jazz music.

James said: “Everything he did fed into his art and I would actually say everything he did was artistic in its own way. His every action was creative and he couldn’t help it.

“He was good at talking about his art but he was fundamentally a reserved man. He would admit he didn’t really know where it came from. He would say he was more interested in things he didn’t know because it gave his work a sense of mystery.

“He was fascinated by symbols contained in Aboriginal, Indian and Mexican cultures and would incorporate them into his later artworks. One of his favourite words to describe art was ‘magic’.”

James and co-curator Gillian Smith hope the Davie magic will be plain to see for all the visitors who flock to the exhibition in the coming weeks.

Gillian said: “We felt we should do something to highlight just what a significant artist he was. It’s also the gallery’s 15th birthday and we wanted something special to mark it so we thought of Alan.

“This exhibition is a celebration of the life of a great artist. Alan’s daughter Katie is supporting the exhibition and hopes to come and see it.”

The paintings featured in A Universal Vision are on loan from Gimpel Fils London and private collections and chart the adventurer/artist’s journey from abstract expressionism into myth and magic symbolism.

His early work was championed by the great American art collector Peggy Guggenheim herself and that support for his paintings still exists to this day.

Dr Philip Rylands, director of The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, said: “A painting by Alan Davie is currently on display at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, where it is seen by approximately 1400 people every day.

“I wish the Park Gallery all possible success for its exhibition of the art of a great abstract painter of international fame.”

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