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Jan Patience: New Alan Davie exhibition is an essential tribute to an undervalued talent

© Alan Wheatley Art LondonBubble Figure I, 1954, by Alan Davie
Bubble Figure I, 1954, by Alan Davie

Grangemouth-born Alan Davie (1920-2014) is one of the great Scottish artists of the 20th Century yet he is hardly a household name. An intuitive painter, poet, jazz musician and jeweller, Davie’s work across all these mediums spanned six decades.

All his work – be it on canvas, on a necklace, on an album or on a page – fizzes with jazzy pattern and zinging colour. A tribal thrum of energy exudes from all his artwork.

Known as the Scottish Jackson Pollock, Davie was admired by everyone from American art collector Peggy Guggenheim, who championed the work of Pollock, to fellow artist David Hockney. After he graduated from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in 1941, most of Davie’s career was spent outside Scotland. He did, however, collaborate with Dovecot, Edinburgh’s renowned tapestry studio.

It is fitting then that the only exhibition held in Scotland to mark his centenary in 2020 opened last week at Dovecot Studios.

Alan Davie: Beginning of a Far-off World takes its title from a 1949 monotype that features in the show alongside paintings, drawings, and archive material.

Alan Davie (Pic: J.S.Lewinski)

The exhibition has been staged by artist and curator, Siobhan McLaughlin, who received a first class honours in Fine Art from ECA in 2019 – almost 80 years after Davie.

McLaughlin first came across Davie’s work in 2014 and found herself drawn by the energy and inventiveness of his approach to art.

Now, eight years on, through grit, determination and focus, McLaughlin has curated a beautiful display of Davie’s work. Each decade of his career is reflected, from early paintings to drawings from the last year of his life.

Two works made in collaboration with Dovecot present tapestries, Cosmic Spiral and Celtic Spirit II, a rug that sings with hot pinks and scarlet threads interspersed by doodle-like pattern. A must-see tribute to an art powerhouse.

As a new illustrated biography reveals, John Maclauchlan Milne (1885-1957) painted in the same places at the same times and in a similar style to the group later known as The Scottish Colourists.

Although his work sold well and he was rated by his peers, today it is off the radar. In The Missing Colourist: The Search for John Maclauchlan Milne, author Maurice Millar, attempts to redress the balance with his thoroughly researched in-depth biography.