Francis Davison (1919-84)

Black, Green and Yellow c 1969 
paper collage, 121 x 515 cm
Sheffield Art Galleries and Museums Trust

Francis Davison is, in my estimation to date, the pre-eminent British abstract artist of the second half of the 20th century.

He worked in isolation, within the passionate confines of his marriage to the artist Margaret Mellis. They kept poultry on their smallholding to make a living.  Gradually, over many years, he developed his extraordinary language of large collage.

He never added pigments, but only used the given colours of the paper. What look like brushmarks are actually the remains of previously glued, torn-off sheets.  He increasingly recycled old collages, for he worked incessantly, in the small front room of their house which he used for a studio, hardly selling anything, making his work richer and richer and bigger and bigger.  

Davison was a modern-day equivalent of the illuminator of the Lindisfarne Gospels.  I know of no-one else who could make hues, tones and shapes dance together in the mind’s eye in such a life-enhancing way, in a purely abstract visual equivalent of song.  The collages may look thrown together, but they’re not. The colour-space relationships are absolutely exact.  Every nick and tear tells in the raw-ragged, furious, utterly unsentimental but glorious beauty he gave to the world. 

I put on a show of Francis Davison’s work at the Hayward Gallery in 1982.  A young student from Leeds called Damien Hirst had the nous to be bowled over by it, and he then tried to do his own versions of Davison.  His attempts revealed his barren visual creativity and, like Duchamp before him (who suffered a similar impotence), he subsequently took his pathetic revenge on art. Neither Francis Davison nor I can be held responsible for the subsequent debacle.

Francis Davison’s estate is in the care of Telfer Stokes.  The remarkable Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham, Rutland - a beacon of excellence in art - promotes Davison’s work.

For more information please visit Francis’s website:

Brilliant Black 1982
paper collage
Tate Gallery, London