Action-packed life of a Grangemouth artist is immortalised in print

editorial image

The career of a remarkable artist-musician born in Grangemouth has been newly enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

He is fairly summed up as “a man who holds a vital place in 20th century European art”.

The larger than life career of James Alan Davie (1920 - 2014) covered everything from a wartime service record in the Royal Artillery to the production of work profoundly influenced by Zen, pagan, Celtic, Navajo, Arabic, and Jain cosmologies.

He designed actress Vivien Leigh’s jewellery for the play Anthony and Cleopatra, and later became fascinated with the “Eastern mysticism and psychedelic counter-cultures emblematic of the 1960s”.

Davie was the son of James William Davie, a Glasgow-trained art teacher, painter and etcher, and was to become a major figure in the world of contemporary art.

He was completely home with the Beat Generation, and not only admired but also met many of the international big names of the 60’s and 70’s.

As an extension of this creativity he also played jazz professionally with major improvisers of the day such as Barry Guy, Tony Oxley and Evan Parker.

The most important development in his life was surely in October, 1947. when in Edinburgh he married Janet Paxton Leitch Horne (Bili) Gaul - a potter, artist and designer who remained his lifelong partner until her death in 2007.

Their 60 years together must have been - following the ODNB account - beyond “extraordinary”.

Awards, honorifics and prizes became the regular punctuation marks in a career which saw the creation of more than 50 major international collections.

Living life to the full, he had “a Dionysian love of sports cars, gliders and scuba diving” - which his professional success made possible.

His lengthy and erudite biography in the ODNB frankly concedes: “Davie’s prominent career is difficult to summarise, spanning as it did more than seven decades”.

Alan Davie’s productivity remained undiminished up to his death, through cancer, on April 5, 2014.

His artistic legacy is, by any rational analysis, both huge and immortal.