What’s crystal clear when you see Alison Watt’s paintings is her absolute clarity and sole focus on subject, composition and above everything, allure. She is especially known for her realistic depictions of drapery and figures. In 2000 she became one of the youngest artists to have a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Whilst doing my research for ‘A Shadow On The Blind’ I discovered it was towards the end of the 1990s when she became interested in painting folds of fabrics and draperies of the kind often used as props by life models. The absence of the human figure marked an important shift in her subject matter. But rather than abandoning the figure as subject in favour of abstraction, her paintings at the Abbot Hall evoke the human body in its absence.
This fascination with fabric, paper and rope means her canvases have become completely devoted to their depiction. The resulting folds and creases create mesmerising shadows that imply there may be someone within, beneath or above it. It’s as if the subject itself embodies human emotion in every knot, wrap and crease. Light is incredibly important. Her hooped coils of rope are magnified and become almost abstracted views. Pure white highlights hit the paper whilst depth is imbued by its opposing contrast. When you get up close to them they sing with their subtleties in colour – reds, yellow and purple, and careful, such very careful brushstrokes. It’s almost hypnotic the elegance in which her very contemporary still-lifes invite you into their mystery and silent manner.
“I’m really interested in how paint behaves at different distances. When you look at my work from across a gallery at a distance, it has a certain form and unity but if you go up close to it, at the distance at which it was painted, it’s entirely different – the image begins to break down and the brushstrokes perform a very different function. The surface is incredibly physical. “
On until 2nd February 2019
Abbot Hall Art Gallery
Kendal, LA9 5AL