Artists

1950-1959

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Provenance

With Galleria Lorenzelli, Bergamo

with Lorenzelli Arte, Milan

Private Collection, Italy

Exhibitions

Zurich, Galerie Charles Lienhard, William Scott, 11 November-12 December 1959, cat no.27

Hannover, Kunstverein, 124. Fruhjahrsausstellung, 10 March-14 April 1963, cat no.141

Bergamo, Galleria Lorenzelli, W. Scott, February 1978

Literature

Sarah Whitfield and Lucy Inglis (eds.), William Scott, Catalogue Raisonné of Oil Paintings, Volume 2: 1952-1959, Thames and Hudson / William Scott Foundation, London, 2013, cat no.415, illus colour p292

Description

Painting, 1959 is one a series of works with the same title and date exhibited at the Galerie Lienhard in Zurich in the winter of 1959. Writing in his introduction for the exhibition catalogue, Alan Bowness summarizes the particular character and success of these paintings as follows, ‘The apparent serenity and amplitude of William Scott’s recent work hide a struggle between two qualities that in combination and in conflict give the painting its particular flavor- austerity and sensuality. They help explain colour that is sumptuous but never gaudy, textures that are rich but never pretty, composition which is complex and calculated and never slack, and imagery which is mysterious and often ambiguous.’ (Alan Bowness, ‘William Scott’ exh. cat., Galerie Charles Lienhard, Zurich, 11 November- 12 December, 1959, unpaginated) This analysis summarizes wonderfully the inherent tensions at play in Scott’s paintings from this period which give them their unique and singular power. Bowness attributes the ‘austerity’ in Scott’s painting to his heritage and relates the primitive and elemental quality of his work to a simple childhood spent in the sometimes harsh environs of Northern Ireland. In Painting, 1959 this ‘austerity’ is conveyed through a certain economy of line, the essential quality of the forms described and a muted colour palette which, is in contrast to the highly energized palettes of paintings such as Orange and Red, 1957, (Fig.1) painted just two years earlier. Yet, these elements are tempered by the inherent sensuality and energy contained within the picture and the process through which it was created. Confronted with the surface of this painting one is made aware of its tactility; layers of coloured paint have been applied one upon another; starting with a deep blue, Scott then paints areas of terracotta red, then white and finally, in parts, thin layers of soft ochre, creating a wonderfully subtle sense of depth and movement. In some areas, Scott scrapes deep into paints surface with a palette knife in thin lines, revealing the warmth of the red beneath and recalling the colour beneath the body’s flesh; this corporeal notion creating a direct relationship with Scott’s reclining nudes of the period, so often imagined in deep reds and oranges. (Fig.2) Painting, 1959 continues in the tradition of much of Scott’s work in taking the subject of the still life as it theme. From the beginning of his career, Scott favoured this subject for it anonymity, using it as means through which to explore the language of painting; the physical articulation of the artist’s theoretical explorations. As Bowness points out, ‘From the beginning he was attracted to the still life as being the most fundamental and most anonymous of all possible subject matter. He chose to paint saucepans and other kitchen utensils on a bare table because…They were the simple means to making a picture, and the pots and pans have slowly evolved until they have become the familiar irregular shapes that Scott now uses.’ (Ibid) Painting, 1959 appropriates these ‘irregular’ shapes which balance within the picture plane to wonderful effect. Scott's oils from this period can be seen as subtly charged and expressive approaches to the traditional theme of the still life. His formal choices result in paintings imbued with a physicality and sense of energy and his motifs become animated rather than static. Losing any literal importance, they become symbolic signifiers of other things and the picture itself; the artist has stopped using paint to create an illusion, and begins to ‘dwell instead on the plastic reality of the surface.’ (Ibid) In Painting, 1959, the canvas is animated by the visceral process of creating an image and the formal relationships between elements contained in the picture plane. This is central to an understanding of Scott’s paintings from this period and as the artist once stated, ‘what interests me in the beginning of a picture is the division of spaces and forms; these must be made to move and be animated like living matter.’ The roots of this can be traced to Scott’s admiration for the art of Alfred Wallis, who worked perspective out in terms of emotion, rather than feet and inches. Objects were sized according to how important he found them, rather than how far away they were; Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood had also found this an exciting way of re-imagining the world. In Painting, 1959, as with much of Wallis’ painting, the perspective has been tipped forward and the objects appear almost flattened, however, the underpinning structure is never destroyed and this is an important aspect of Scott’s work. Scott traces this pictorial device back through art history and recognizes it as something which links all of the art he admires, commenting, ‘For me the picture plane should never be destroyed. All kinds of pictures that I like in the world seem to be flat... I like the Byzantines, I like the early Italians, and then there are great gaps in my liking of painting until we come to Cezanne. ...The things in the picture now make a complete whole, and the final image is the picture itself, not the things that have been painted.’ (Scott with Martin Attwood, Script for Recorded Illustrated Lecture [Held in British Council Visual Arts Library, 1961) Bowness reaffirms this the notion that Scott’s work sits within a long tradition of both Europen and Ancient art, summarizing, ‘Scott has always had a strong sense of the past- both for the living tradition of Chardin, Corot, Cezanne and Bonnard to which he feels he belongs and for the distant European past of the cave paintings and archaic Greek sculpture and Pompeian frescoes (see Fig.3,4) in which he sees the same strong sensual and plastic qualities, the combination of erotic and austere that he seeks in his own paintings.’ (Ibid)