© The Artist, Courtesy of the Estate of the artist and Gimpel Fils


Alan Davie (1920 – 2014)


122 X 152.5 CM
Accession number


Alan Davie was born in Scotland, the son of a painter, and as a child showed considerable musical gifts. His talents as a painter developed alongside side his talents as a jazz musician (the alto-saxophone being his instrument) and the improvisatory nature of jazz music with the spontaneous interaction between musicians parallels the freedoms of his painting, and the direct relationship he has with his paints and the canvas. He painted his first abstract works in 1945 and thus joined the vanguard of European modernism. He abandoned painting for a year’s tour with a jazz band; when he returned his iconography and style were set in the direction they have followed ever since. His compositions are unusually suggestive, full of strong forms and incidents, and bear full and descriptive titles, the view is led to think that they are representations of something, if only he were provided with a visual dictionary. But a key to unlock their contents is unnecessary; Davie usually gives his works titles after they are completed, therefore a literal representation is not intended. Instead a poetic or symbolic meaning, personal to the artist, is invoked, which perhaps emerges as he works on the canvas.

As a Scot, Davie is aware of his Celtic heritage, and has looked for clan emblems or totems from his native culture as well as from remote African and Far Eastern ones. Magic presences that inhabit natural objects such as stones, trees and fishes play a large part in his painterly evocations, and the Image of the Fish Goda robust and splendid example. A forceful composition confronts the viewer, painted at top speed and without any preconceptions as to what might emerge. The flexibility of the image, fluid until the final moment when Davie decides to stop work on the painting, gives it its freedom. Indeed one could imagine that the painting, created with such energy, continues beyond the bounds of the edge of the canvas, and it is in those unseen non-physical regions of the image that the fish god really exists. Davie reveals his Scottish ancestry in the unreserved way he handles paint; it is slapped on thickly and broadly with multi-directional strokes, which, when they overlay, build up a richer texture. As he said of his work in 1958 ‘The work of art seems to be something thrown off – a by-product of the process of living and working. Art just happens – like falling in love.’

There were seven paintings entitled Image of the Fish God, all painted in 1956, a prolific year for Davie. All were painted on board, of the same dimensions, three of which are landscape in format, and all but one were numbered 1-6. The unnumbered work is in the collection of the Tate (

A selection of paintings and sculpture: The British Council Collection, The British Council 1984