Alan Davie studied at Edinburgh College of Art in the late 1930s and an early exhibition of his work came through the Society of Scottish Artists.
After the Second World War, Davie travelled widely. In Venice he became influenced by other painters of the period, such as Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock and Joan Miró. He also was introduced to Zen Buddhism assimilating the importance of spontaneity it advocates. This had a strong impact on his painting style. He has attempted to paint as automatically as possible, which was intended to bring forth elements of his subconscious. In conjunction with this he also began to develop a fascination with the work of the Psychoanalyst Carl Jung. These ideas and interests were shared with Surrealist painters such as Miró.
Like Pollock, many of Davie's works were executed by standing above the painting, which laid on the ground. He added layers of paint until sometimes the original painting had been covered many times over. Despite the speed at which he worked (he usually had several paintings on the go at once) he was adamant that his images were not pure abstraction, but that all held symbolic significance. Championing the primitive, he saw the role of the artist as akin to that of the shaman, and remarked upon how disparate cultures have adopted common symbols in their visual languages.