Obituary: Alan Davie, musician, 93

Alan Davie and a large tapestry he designed. Picture: Jon Savage
Alan Davie and a large tapestry he designed. Picture: Jon Savage
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Alan Davie, artist and musician, has died, aged 93.

James Alan Davie was born on September 28, 1920, in Grangemouth, the son of a schoolmaster.

His father was a keen painter and etcher and encouraged Alan to draw from an early age.

Alan was also a talented pianist, and when he saw the jazzman Coleman Hawkins playing in an Edinburgh record shop he took up the saxophone.

At the age of 17 he went to Edinburgh College of Art, where he studied under the distinguished professor John Maxwell. He left in 1941 and served in the Royal Artillery for the last three years of the Second World War.

Demobbed in 1946 he returned to Edinburgh to resume painting and had his first solo show here. He became a professional saxophonist with the Edinburgh-based swing band, the Tommy Sampson Orchestra, which also toured Europe. In addition he wrote poetry, made pots, designed textiles and worked as a jeweller. One of his brooches was worn by the actress Vivien Leigh in one of her films.

In 1947 he married Janet Gaul, an artist and potter, always known as Bili, and the couple travelled across Europe together, arriving in Venice in time for the 1948 Biennale, the first since the war. Davie later recalled: “There were huge exhibitions of Picasso and Paul Klee, and for the first time I saw the work of my American contemporaries – Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning. I started painting again, working on big rolls of paper on the floor in cheap hotel rooms.”

They moved to London in 1949, just months before the birth of their only child Jane, and later settled near Hertford.

Davie had taught for a while in Edinburgh and in the 1950s took up teaching again, this time at the Central School of Art in London.

He has been described as Scotland’s most respected painter of the post-war era and won international acclaim from both critics and fellow artists, among them Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and David Hockney.

His paintings were filled with symbolism. He stressed the importance of improvisation as his chosen method. He was a follower of Zen Buddhism and in his later career his work increasingly focused on the mystical and transcendental.

He was also an enthusiastic glider pilot and had a passion for driving E-type Jaguars. He bought a house on St Lucia in the Caribbean, where he took up underwater swimming and set up the Alan Davie Music Workshop.

He was appointed CBE in 1972 and elected a senior Royal Academician in 2012.

In 2009, the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh held an exhibition of his works and the National Galleries of Scotland own several of his paintings including a self-portrait.

His wife Bili died in 2007.