William Scott Retrospective

Still Life with Candlestick by William Scott

To mark a century since the birth of William Scott, a retrospective exhibition is touring the UK and features in the summer public programme at The Hepworth Wakefield (15 June – 29 September 2013).

Born in Scotland, Scott actually grew up in my native Northern Ireland and many of the paintings shown in the summer exhibition form part of the Ulster Museum’s collection, as well being drawn from other major collections across the UK and Ireland. In fact, the works will be shown next at the Ulster Museum, Belfast (25 October 2013 – 2 February 2014)  as an expanded survey exhibition to finish the year long show. 

For me Scott is one of those artists that you may not necessarily know by name but you recognise his works: the bold abstract squares and circles of his later work exploring a palette of desert or ocean colours, to his kitchen table still lifes of fish, frying pans, pears, and bowls.

Scott painted just to paint – to explore its potential and the illusion of the canvas. After an art-school influenced spell creating traditional oil paintings with romantic sensibilities, he searched for a more universal language. He focussed in on still life and the ‘things of life’, drawn often from his childhood memories.

His staple forms of the fish, frying pan, and white bowl became his own language which he constantly repeated and used to re-evaluate his techniques throughout his fifty-year career. This repetition evolved into the increasingly abstract form.

His colour palette seemed to explore similar tonal and complementary shades. The works show much depth and interest, and at times the colours literally pop from the canvas.

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My favourite works in the exhibition were his harbour landscapes. The selection exhibited spanned his career and clearly illustrate the progression of his style. Starting in 1939 with a traditional literal depiction of a harbour, to the 1976 metaphorical harbour with two areas of blue on a white canvas. In his later years Scott developed Alzheimer’s disease and revisited Harbour (1976), drawing on the painting three naive sail boats seeking shelter from the harbour wall.

His work Orange Segments (1976) is another one of my favourites and employs a very similar form to Harbour (1976), which makes sense as both were painted in the same period.

William Scott's Orange Segments (1976)

To me Scott’s simple gesture towards an indication of form allows the viewer to fill in the blanks to create and powerful and personal interpretation of the painting.

What struck me about the show overall was how comforting the canvases were. The large abstract ones felt like you could take them down and wrap then around you like a large soft blanket, whereas the more literal still lifes were homely and inviting, like visiting your mother’s kitchen table where you would be safe, full, and warm.







One thought on “William Scott Retrospective

  1. Pingback: For the life of me | KJG that's me

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