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Shellfish Elements, 1956

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DAVIE, Shellfish elements.jpg
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ALAN DAVIE

Oil on board 122 x 152.5 cm
Signed, inscribed and dated 'Alan Davie 56/SHELL-FISH ELEMENTS' (verso)
Opus O.164  

Provenance
Gimpel Fils, London.
Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London.
Private collection, UK (purchased from above in 2007).

 

Additional notes:

1956, the year the present work was painted, is widely regarded as the most crucial moment in Davie’s development. His international reputation had developed rapidly during the 1950s and in 1956 he had his first solo exhibition in New York, at the Catherine Viviano Gallery. The show sold out and major paintings were acquired by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the esteemed collector Stanley Seeger. Whilst in New York, Davie also met the leading protagonists of Modernist American painting - Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock. The artist had first engaged with the work of the New York avant-garde during his travels around Europe in the late 1940s and his chance encounter with Peggy Guggenheim.

The present work demonstrates both the legacy of Surrealist automatism and of a Cubist handling of space and in doing so, mirrors the inspiration that such sources provided to young American painters. Shellfish Elements therefore evokes the all-over handling found in Pollock’s drip paintings - and also the types of embedded imagery and Jungian symbols found in his 1940s works, as well as the spatial sophistication of de Kooning’s paintings.

Like Pollock, who famously painted from ‘within’ in his compositions, Davie channelled symbol and image with an automatist, improvisatory approach, often working from above with his canvas on the floor. Underlying all Davie’s work was a Jungian belief in the ‘collective unconscious’, which led him to a vocabulary of archetypal signs and shapes that he saw recurring across millennia of human creation, and a synthesis of mythic elements from countless different cultures. He believed that all powerful art had an intense mystical content, and conceived of himself as something like a disinherited shaman, bringing images into the world that – like the ritual art of so-called ‘primitive’ societies – would have a spiritual life in the community.

As Alan Bowness observed, ‘he seems to me to be among the major figures in the art of our time. He represents a particular artistic position, very relevant to the contemporary situation – a readiness to go back to beginnings, to think again about the meaning and the purpose of art at a time when most painting is unthinking in the sense of the word. His point of view commands respect, and it is expressed essentially through the paintings. These have come to show an overriding concern with the symbolic image, chosen by intuition, and meaningful at many levels, not least as objects in the pictorial space with an independent life of their own’ (A. Bowness (ed.), Alan Davie, London, 1967, p. 169).

Shellfish Elements, 1956

Oil on board
122 x 152.5 cm
Signed, inscribed and dated 'Alan Davie 56/SHELL-FISH ELEMENTS' (verso)
Opus O.164

 

Provenance
Gimpel Fils, London.
Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, London.
Private collection, UK (purchased from above in 2007).

 

Additional notes:

1956, the year the present work was painted, is widely regarded as the most crucial moment in Davie’s development. His international reputation had developed rapidly during the 1950s and in 1956 he had his first solo exhibition in New York, at the Catherine Viviano Gallery. The show sold out and major paintings were acquired by institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the esteemed collector Stanley Seeger. Whilst in New York, Davie also met the leading protagonists of Modernist American painting - Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock. The artist had first engaged with the work of the New York avant-garde during his travels around Europe in the late 1940s and his chance encounter with Peggy Guggenheim.

The present work demonstrates both the legacy of Surrealist automatism and of a Cubist handling of space and in doing so, mirrors the inspiration that such sources provided to young American painters. Shellfish Elements therefore evokes the all-over handling found in Pollock’s drip paintings - and also the types of embedded imagery and Jungian symbols found in his 1940s works, as well as the spatial sophistication of de Kooning’s paintings.

Like Pollock, who famously painted from ‘within’ in his compositions, Davie channelled symbol and image with an automatist, improvisatory approach, often working from above with his canvas on the floor. Underlying all Davie’s work was a Jungian belief in the ‘collective unconscious’, which led him to a vocabulary of archetypal signs and shapes that he saw recurring across millennia of human creation, and a synthesis of mythic elements from countless different cultures. He believed that all powerful art had an intense mystical content, and conceived of himself as something like a disinherited shaman, bringing images into the world that – like the ritual art of so-called ‘primitive’ societies – would have a spiritual life in the community.

As Alan Bowness observed, ‘he seems to me to be among the major figures in the art of our time. He represents a particular artistic position, very relevant to the contemporary situation – a readiness to go back to beginnings, to think again about the meaning and the purpose of art at a time when most painting is unthinking in the sense of the word. His point of view commands respect, and it is expressed essentially through the paintings. These have come to show an overriding concern with the symbolic image, chosen by intuition, and meaningful at many levels, not least as objects in the pictorial space with an independent life of their own’ (A. Bowness (ed.), Alan Davie, London, 1967, p. 169).