Alan Davie: Harrogate’s most exciting art exhibition of the year

108 Fine Art gallery's Andrew Stewart in front of Alan Davie's Mama Idol, oil on canvas, painted in 1974.
108 Fine Art gallery's Andrew Stewart in front of Alan Davie's Mama Idol, oil on canvas, painted in 1974.
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By Graham Chalmers

The launch this weekend of Alan Davie: A Miraculous Storm is possibly the most exciting important and exciting art event of the year in Harrogate.

Disintegrated Target, 1960, by Alan Davie.

Disintegrated Target, 1960, by Alan Davie.

But don’t take my word for it, just read on.

In an essay in the stunning catalogue for this hugely exciting new exhibition at 108 Fine Art gallery, Bill Hare, who interviewed Alan Davie CBE in 1992, hails the late artist with these words:

“Such a rich and complex stylistic development clearly marks Davie out as one of the most inventive practitioners of later 20th century painters.

And there’s more. “For my money Alan Davie is one of the greatest artists ever to come out of Britain” – Professor Michael Sandle R.A.

No wonder this major retrospective of paintings and works on paper has been such a labour of love for 108 Fine Art owner Andrew Stewart.

Championed by Peggy Guggenheim in the 1950s, Scottish-born Davie was, perhaps, the only artist on this side of the Atlantic who could hold his own with the great Americans Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and co. They certainly thought so.

Pain-stakingly put together over the course of 12 months with the support of Davie’s long-time Gimpsel Fils of London, Stewart knew the bearded, large-than-life Davie personally and it shows.

Andrew Stewart said: All of the works were chosen from Alan Davie’s archive and chosen for different reasons. They were all personal choices and works which I think help to depict the development of his art over his lifetime.

“Some remind me personally of Alan and time’s spent at his studio. Others were chosen because they are very rare or because they are some of the finest paintings from a particular period.”

Here are five highlights of this very personal new exhibition in Stewart’s own words.

Moonlit Tree, gouache on paper (1948):

“The earliest work that I came across in Alan’s collection was this superb oil on newspaper dating from 1948. Reflecting his early interest in cubism, Arp and Kandinsky. This work is not tied to the constraints of a provincial UK art scene but suggests his search for a new, bigger, universal language.”

Baby, oil on paper (1949):

“This tiny, early painting by Alan was created at the time of the birth of his daughter Katie. It has a beautiful, jewel-like delicacy about it.”

Disintegrated Target, oil on canvas (1960):

“For me the brilliance, energy and immediancy of this painting captures a moment in time when Davie, together with Pollock, Rothko, Noland, Motherwell and a few others were rocking the art world. An absolute masterpiece.”

Daidling Dance, oil on board (1996):

“Painted when the artist was well into his 70s, the composition, colours and symbols in this fabulous painting combine to create a whirling celebration, a psychedelic tartan party suggesting more than a nod to his Celtic roots.”

May Eat Whole Fruit, Gouache on paper (2004):

“As with many of the world’s truly great artists, Alan Davie made some of his best work in his later years. This work reminds me of the paintings I saw during my first few visits to the artist’s studio in Hertfordshire.

“By the time Alan was 84 with walls full of paintings in various stages of completion. It makes me smile; remembering Alan’s great sense of fun, and his delight and fascination in seeing each new work emerge.”