Alan Davie studied at Edinburgh College of Art between 1937 and 1940 after which he was award a travelling scholarship. During the war he served in the Royal Artillery and in 1946 began teaching at Moray House Teaching College in Edinburgh. In 1947 he became a professional jazz musician.
In 1948 he held solo exhibitions in Florence and Venice and had work purchased by Peggy Guggenheim. From 1950 to 1952 he exhibited at the Gimpel Fils Gallery in London and later in the 1950's held three one man shows there. In 1957 he showed work at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris and at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 1958 he was included in the Critics Choice Exhibition selected by David Sylvester and also that year he had his work included in the Venice Biennale.
Alan Davie's work has been widely exhibited and is included in numerous international public and private collections. Tate Britain, the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum the Foundation Maeght and the Museum of Modern Art New York are some key examples.
In 1993 he was given a major retrospective at London's Barbican Gallery. In his comments on the exhibition the Art Critic for the Observer, William Feaver noted:
' Where de Chirico stacked mannequins and biscuits in piazzas, Davie makes charismatic pile- ups of signs, drawn from everyday culture. He thinks bigger than de Chirico, flouts his grammar of ornament and has little time for ethnic orthodoxies. He is a free associator calling on all sorts of resources, an explorer hacking at the creepers to lay bare polyglottal inscriptions and arcane imagery.'