Leo Davy 1924-1987


The Artist's Estate

Private Collection, UK


2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 4, p. 23 (col. illus.)


In 1950, Leo Davy received his first teaching post at a Catholic school in Highgate, north London. He had previously studied first under Reginald Brill at Kingston School of Art and then from 1942 until 1945 at the Slade School of Fine Art, usually in London but then evacuated to Oxford due to WWII. The first half of the 1950s was a time of great success, creativity and productivity for Davy. He counted amongst his friends the artists John Latham and Kyffin Williams, John Roberts (son of painter William Roberts), Germano Pacetti, the arts editor for Penguin books, as well as the famed Scottish psychiatrists, R.D. Laing and David Cooper. Davy remained teaching in Highgate until 1955, and from 1960 was predominantly based in North Cornwall.

In 1950 Leo Davy was included in a mixed summer show at Gimpel Fils gallery alongside French artist Jean Lurçat and British abstract artists on the cusp of international success including William Scott, Prunella Clough, Alan Davie and Patrick Heron. Davy possessed a strong philosophical bent, and his overarching project during the 1950s was to explore what he termed “non-verbal concepts”, that which existed before language. Aesthetically, this manifested in the deconstruction of recognisably human elements, including fractured human heads like his contemporary William Turnbull, into increasingly fragmented abstraction. From the mid-1950s, Abstraction reveals the culmination of Davy’s development into pure abstraction. Vertically oriented and thus somewhat suggestive of the human figure, Abstraction is nonetheless devoid of allusions to the exterior world. Davy daubs blocks of red, blue, cream and black oil paint down the board, a fractured grid of interlocking columnar forms. As with the best of Davy’s paintings, the application of local colour makes Abstraction a rhythmical, pulsating picture, with accents of rich patches of red and small dabs of cornflower blue.