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Priest of the Red Temple, 1956

Alan Davie

8. DAVIE, Priest of the Red Temple.jpg
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Oil on canvas
183 x 244 cm / 72 x 96 inches
Signed, dated and inscribed with the title verso

Provenance
Gimpel Fils, London.
Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York, USA.
Collection of Stanley J. Seeger Jr., London. 


Exhibited
1956, Alan Davie, Gimpel Fils, London.
1961, The Stanley J. Seeger Jr. Collection, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, no.60.
Show Literature & Catalogue NotesShow Literature & Catalogue Notes

Literature
Exhibition catalogue, Alan Davie, Gimpel Fils, London, 1956.
Exhibition catalogue, The Stanley J. Seeger Jr. Collection, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, 1961, no.60, ill.
Alan BOWNESS (ed.). Alan Davie, London, 1967, no.141, pl.32, ill.
Douglas HALL and Michael TUCKER. Alan Davie, London, 1992, no.179, pl.55, ill.

 

'It [Priest of the Red Temple] is in every sense a formidable picture'.
(The Times, Alan Davie exhibition review, 11 October 1956)

1956 is widely seen as Davie’s annus mirabilis, pivotal in terms of his career and his creative output. He held important one man exhibitions at Gimpel Fils, London and his first one-man show in New York at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, which was greeted with popular and critical acclaim. Significant public and private purchases were made, including by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Magic Box, 1955, cat. no.2), the Albright Knox Art Gallery at Buffalo (Female, Male, 1955, cat. no.7) and by collectors such as Stanley Seeger, who went on to purchase several important works by Davie.

In his earlier career Davie sought to access a higher level of consciousness through spontaneous, chaotic forms but towards the 1960s his engagement with Zen Buddhism and the magical led to the appearance of emblems and symbols in his work to express this higher state. Executed on canvas, Priest of the Red Temple captures the development of Davie’s style as he began to use this medium in preference to masonite: his palette became much brighter while the all over density of forms was gradually supplanted by more spacious, airy compositions which allowed space between the shapes. Although some areas of the work display the richly textured, densely worked style of his earlier painting, they appear within a composition of other more boldly coloured, recognisable shapes. The study for this work reveals the importance of these symbolic elements: the arrows and other figures, which intrude from the edges of the painting in bright contrast from the background, are almost directly copied from the study, proving themselves crucial to the work’s conception.

The importance of colour was central to Davie's work. Writing in ‘Notes on Colour, 1991’, the artist explains how ‘colour is always subtly associated with pigment and surface textures: even a simple red ground must be closely worked with many reds, teasing pinks and soft overlays and underlays of subtle orange, before the singing joy-light can begin’ (reproduced in Alan Bowness, Alan Davie, London, 1992, p.66). Indeed, we see such principles carried out in the present work, with a flare of yellow emerging from under the red in the lower right corner, while the lower left reveals darker tones underlying the impact of the bright red.

As a young artist, Davie initially found himself attracted to the European avant-garde whose successors he would later engage with during his trip to Europe after winning a travelling scholarship in 1948. As Davie explained in his essay ‘I Confess’: ‘Father being a painter, gave me one day some paints and a canvas, and I was able to approach the temple doors of this unknown dream world. Then I didn’t know the way, or was shy, or no one thought of showing me; so I contented myself sitting there outside, and fell in love with the world of Van Gogh and Gauguin’ (July-October 1963). The influence of these artists on Davie’s work continued throughout his artistic career, and the bold red of the present work strongly evokes Gauguin’s own Vision after the Sermon; Davie’s palette here is remarkably similar to that of Gauguin’s, employing a rich yellow, bright white and dark blues which appear all the more striking against the red. However, Davie is released from the confines of the figurative, and instead his religious scene expresses a new creed, one which resurrects a primitive sense of spirituality and sees ‘the artist [as] the first magician and the first spiritual leader, and indeed today he must take the role of arch-priest of the new spiritualism’ (Davie in ‘Towards a new definition of art, some notes on (NOW) painting’, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, April – May 1960).

Priest of the Red Temple, 1956

Oil on canvas
183 x 244 cm / 72 x 96 inches
Signed, dated and inscribed with the title verso

Provenance
Gimpel Fils, London.
Catherine Viviano Gallery, New York, USA.
Collection of Stanley J. Seeger Jr., London. 


Exhibited
1956, Alan Davie, Gimpel Fils, London.
1961, The Stanley J. Seeger Jr. Collection, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, no.60.
Show Literature & Catalogue NotesShow Literature & Catalogue Notes

Literature
Exhibition catalogue, Alan Davie, Gimpel Fils, London, 1956.
Exhibition catalogue, The Stanley J. Seeger Jr. Collection, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, USA, 1961, no.60, ill.
Alan BOWNESS (ed.). Alan Davie, London, 1967, no.141, pl.32, ill.
Douglas HALL and Michael TUCKER. Alan Davie, London, 1992, no.179, pl.55, ill.

 

'It [Priest of the Red Temple] is in every sense a formidable picture'.
(The Times, Alan Davie exhibition review, 11 October 1956)

1956 is widely seen as Davie’s annus mirabilis, pivotal in terms of his career and his creative output. He held important one man exhibitions at Gimpel Fils, London and his first one-man show in New York at the Catherine Viviano Gallery, which was greeted with popular and critical acclaim. Significant public and private purchases were made, including by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Magic Box, 1955, cat. no.2), the Albright Knox Art Gallery at Buffalo (Female, Male, 1955, cat. no.7) and by collectors such as Stanley Seeger, who went on to purchase several important works by Davie.

In his earlier career Davie sought to access a higher level of consciousness through spontaneous, chaotic forms but towards the 1960s his engagement with Zen Buddhism and the magical led to the appearance of emblems and symbols in his work to express this higher state. Executed on canvas, Priest of the Red Temple captures the development of Davie’s style as he began to use this medium in preference to masonite: his palette became much brighter while the all over density of forms was gradually supplanted by more spacious, airy compositions which allowed space between the shapes. Although some areas of the work display the richly textured, densely worked style of his earlier painting, they appear within a composition of other more boldly coloured, recognisable shapes. The study for this work reveals the importance of these symbolic elements: the arrows and other figures, which intrude from the edges of the painting in bright contrast from the background, are almost directly copied from the study, proving themselves crucial to the work’s conception.

The importance of colour was central to Davie's work. Writing in ‘Notes on Colour, 1991’, the artist explains how ‘colour is always subtly associated with pigment and surface textures: even a simple red ground must be closely worked with many reds, teasing pinks and soft overlays and underlays of subtle orange, before the singing joy-light can begin’ (reproduced in Alan Bowness, Alan Davie, London, 1992, p.66). Indeed, we see such principles carried out in the present work, with a flare of yellow emerging from under the red in the lower right corner, while the lower left reveals darker tones underlying the impact of the bright red.

As a young artist, Davie initially found himself attracted to the European avant-garde whose successors he would later engage with during his trip to Europe after winning a travelling scholarship in 1948. As Davie explained in his essay ‘I Confess’: ‘Father being a painter, gave me one day some paints and a canvas, and I was able to approach the temple doors of this unknown dream world. Then I didn’t know the way, or was shy, or no one thought of showing me; so I contented myself sitting there outside, and fell in love with the world of Van Gogh and Gauguin’ (July-October 1963). The influence of these artists on Davie’s work continued throughout his artistic career, and the bold red of the present work strongly evokes Gauguin’s own Vision after the Sermon; Davie’s palette here is remarkably similar to that of Gauguin’s, employing a rich yellow, bright white and dark blues which appear all the more striking against the red. However, Davie is released from the confines of the figurative, and instead his religious scene expresses a new creed, one which resurrects a primitive sense of spirituality and sees ‘the artist [as] the first magician and the first spiritual leader, and indeed today he must take the role of arch-priest of the new spiritualism’ (Davie in ‘Towards a new definition of art, some notes on (NOW) painting’, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, April – May 1960).