Davie's fantastically eclectic collection


VISUAL ARTS:ALAN DAVIE, WHO was born in Grangemouth in Scotland in 1920, is one of a generation of British artists who looked to an international context to find their own artistic voices. In his case, the decisive event was a tour of Europe undertaken towards the end of the 1940s, by which stage he had served in the army through most of the Second World War, joined a jazz group, and made jewellery for a while. In the Venice Guggenheim, he was impressed by Jackson Pollock's work, but he absorbed a wide range of influences, including much outside of the Western mainstream.

The paintings that feature in The Shaman's Enigma, his exhibition at Hillsboro Fine Art, suggest references as disparate as Aztec codices and Buddhist mandalas. They are fantastically eclectic and they employ handwritten texts extensively. Some are loosely made, with wild splurges of pigment and roughhewn lettering, while others are more tightly organised and finished, held together with complicated linear patterns. All are delivered with tremendous verve and undiminished energy, just in case we might think that, in the second half of his 80s, Davie is slowing down.

More than once, the late Jean Michel Basquiet comes to mind in relation to Davie's bold, incisive markings and arrangements of compelling but cryptic symbols. Yet in any comparison, Davie surely comes out streets ahead. In evoking the shaman, he is aligning himself with a tradition of European and American artists who appeal to archaic, unconscious dimensions of the human spirit, and many of his canvases have something of the quality of automatic writing in seeming to emerge from some deep imaginative level without conscious interference. Yet he doesn't patronise us by pretending to some kind of innocence or "primitivism". One always feels there is real intelligence at work in his paintings, a lively, mischievous intelligence that continually pushes thing and ups the ante. His show is a real pleasure.

The Paul Kane Gallery currently features one half of a co-operative venture with the Eagle Gallery in London. While Irish artists are exhibiting there, several of Eagle's artists are showing work in Dublin. Perhaps the best known of them is Basil Beattie, whose paintings and works on paper are, one is tempted to say, slick, except that it is more than a little unfair. It's just that he is so adept at constructing spaces and structures in quick-witted arrangements and variations that it can come across as being too easy, and you wish he would challenge himself more.

Nevertheless, his work, and that of the other four participating artists, is well worth seeing. Jane Bustin makes visually and physically spare works that can appear minimalist but in fact harbour layers of allusion. While her pieces are formally very considered and beautiful, they are also convincing in their wider references and strategies and she comes across as a thoughtful and intriguing artist.

She also uses abstraction as a means to an end, whereas the remaining three artists all take representational imagery and mediate or reformulate it in some way. Peter Rasmussen's hybrid monoprint- paintings are drawn from Jean Renoir's classic film La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game). There is a fast, provisional quality to his work that suits its momentary, narrative nature. His predominantly pale palette is really well judged. Using the film as a source allows him to work within a framework, and an imaginative space, without being charged with the task of actually telling a story. The work of Philippa Sutherland, who shows with Paul Kane, comes to mind as a relevant comparison.

Zara Matthews refers to cloning in meticulously painted images of individuals, viewed from behind, which gives them a slightly sinister air, something augmented by the fact that these conspicuously painstaking images are repeated, sometimes framed differently. That is, Matthews sets out to demonstrate the disconcertingly mechanical aspects of something considered special and sacrosanct: life itself and individuality.

Finally, James Fisher's richly-coloured paintings present us with deceptive surfaces. Appropriated imagery is infiltrated into layer upon layer of decorative patterning - or vice versa. The basic effect is to make us question what we are looking at as the illusion of the picture surface gives way no matter which way we try to read it. Having been diverted, however, we are endlessly entertained by Fisher's juxtapositions of line, pattern and colour. If you are used to thinking of contemporary British art purely in terms of the YBAs, this show should come as an interesting corrective.

Pills: Which ones have you taken?at the Science Gallery in Trinity College features work by the memorably named Pharmacopia, a collaborative partnership involving textile artist Susie Freeman, family doctor Liz Lee and video artist David Critchley. It is a fascinating show which aims to provoke a thoughtful response from its audience. Armour, for example, marshals the packaging from some 10,000 pills taken by one man over the last five years. Sweetie, in which various pills embellish a handbag, considers the toylike attractiveness of many pharmaceuticals.

Work your way through the exhibits and you could come to several conclusions, one being that we get through an awful lot of pills. Some of them are clearly necessary and therapeutic, however, and others are more questionable. It is a thoroughly engaging, informative and even provocative show, however it is true that, as art, nothing in it comes close to the sheer impact of Damien Hirst's Pharmacy, which recreated a pharmacy in a gallery space, or his several variations of this idea involving individual medicine cupboards and chemists' display cases.

The Shaman's Enigma, paintings by renowned Scottish-born artist Alan Davie, Hillsboro Fine Art, 49 Parnell Sq West, until Apr 26, 01-8788242; Exchange London/Dublin, featuring artists represented by the Eagle Gallery, London: Basil Beattie, Jane Bustin, James Fisher, Zara Matthews and Peter Rasmussen, the Paul Kane Gallery, 6 Merrion Sq, Tues-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat noon-5pm, until Apr 19, 087-6478423; Pills: Which ones have you taken?, Pharmacopia, The Science Gallery, Pearse St, Trinity College, Tues-Fri noon-8pm, Sat-Sun noon-6pm, until Apr 12, 01-8964091.