Painting has taught me much, mainly that it is impossible to paint a picture and that if a picture is to be, it must happen in spite of me rather than because of me. Yet only through the me (the individual) can the formless psyche find substance. The work when it happens will be a revelation of something hitherto hidden. Thus the artist must be a prophet; that is, one who utters that which is meaningful in a timeless sense, not out of reason or knowledge of the past, but out of the eternal NOW which is everlastingly fresh and wonderful.We have long ago kicked out the materialist. Let us throw out the materialist once more. This is a spiritual age. (Or shall we give him a bed in the basement?)Why are these cyclamen so beautiful, and what are they being beautiful for? I paint because I have nothing, or I paint because I am full of paint ideas, or I paint because I want a purple picture on my wall, or I paint because after I last painted, something appeared miraculously out of it… something strange, and maybe something strange may happen again. (The real thing is always strange: that is, beyond understanding.)

Or I paint in the hope that once more I might be able to excel my own capabilities.

But all these reasons are only excuses, and paint ideas are significant only if they are the outcome of painting, coming at the end and not at the beginning. The preliminary idea, no matter how insistent, must be broken down, superseded. So then I put on my painting boots. For you see, painting is something rather distasteful, like cleaning out the drains; and sitting in the paint (which one must do) and standing in the picture (which one must do)… a messy business.

And here I must come face to face with my greatest enemy, myself. For he has lovely ideas that must be destroyed. She was lovely, and she was a delightful little thing, but she will eventually show herself as the lousy little cheap cheat she really is. But having made a few gestures and suckable sweet nuances I begin to die again (I am dying for her).

The white poodle puts her paws on my knee and looks with that look again.

What is the meaning in these eyes?

What kind of space is that, away in there?

Is there an inner (outer) space?

Is the universe in me too?

I recognized the other side of the moon, for I knew. I am tempted to believe that time is hot real, nor space, and of course beginning and ending, cause and effect. Are not our fears the outcome of false concepts of beginning and ending? How often have I done a painting of which the cause came long after.

As to the ending of a painting, there is no ending as there can be no beginning. I cannot possibly know when a picture is completed.

I If, when I have been working, I feel satisfied about it, then ! inevitably the picture will have no lasting significance. On the t other hand so often have I stopped work feeling that the picture ; is not satisfactory… stopped because of extraneous I circumstances (lunehis ready) and much later I have found

that it really was and is meaningful, and this I know (another

kind of knowing).

There can never be a complete or perfect work of art, for perfection is death. Perfection is finite, imperfection is Infinite. One can only complete something according to a preconception based on knowledge, which is so much dead past. Self-expression is the antithesis of art. Expressionist painting or action painting can only be good if it achieves transcendence of the very expression. The act or gesture, coming out of rage, fear, joy, hatred, tenderness, love, frustration, etc. (all superficial, transient emotions) if it is to be a lever, an opener-up, a tool, must be only a means used as a force to help liberate the underlying (or overlying) human psyche which alone is real and enduring.

The artist is never sure, because he knows that knowledge is of no value and not knowing is of more value than knowing, which is mere cleverness.

The artist is always sure, because he has faith in intuition, and intuition is knowing without knowledge.

So, then, paradoxically, I am unsure and sure at the same time.

- Alan Davie

Text written for the catalogue of  an exhibition in Zürich 1960


Alan Davie

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Alan Davie was born in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire in 1920, the son of a painter and printmaker. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art...