Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Scott of the Hepworth

William Scott (1913-1989) is one of the forgotten painters of twentieth century British modernism, something that The Hepworth Wakefield is trying to correct in a show that mainly focuses on his almost abstract work of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Scott's paintings of this period feature reoccurring motifs – frying pans, pears, bowls, kettles and fish – but rather than depicting them in a downbeat kitchen sink manner they exemplify the thing that makes British modernism compelling, they bring a pragmatic realism into the abstract mix.

William Scott, Still Life with Orange Note, 1970

A small room at the gallery contains some of the antecedents of Scott’s later pared down style. These early still lives, figures and landscapes show the influences of Chardin, Matisse and Braque and then, after Scott spent a period in St Ives, (where this show travelled to Wakefield from) essences of Christopher Woods and Ben Nicholson drift through the work. It was however a period spent in America that introduced Scott to abstract expressionism and the work of Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock, which encouraged him to strip his work of superfluous details leaving the sensually painted surfaces of his scaled up canvasses peppered with flattened frying pans and pears.

William Scott, Still Life with Candlestick, 1949-50

Scott was born in Northern Ireland (the last stop for this exhibition) but has a link with Wakefield through a work that was exhibited at the ground breaking 1956 exhibition about new abstract painting and sculpture in Britain, Vision and Reality, curated by Helen Kapp at the former Wakefield Art Gallery. Scott’s position at the forefront of the British avant-garde is further examined at The Hepworth by an archive exhibit, which draws on a 1954 New York exhibition that featured Scott alongside Francis Bacon and Barbara Hepworth.

William Scott, An Orchard of Pears No.10, 1976-77

Another interesting thing to note in the continuing resurrection of Scott is that he looks unnervingly like Morrissey. It seems very fitting that these two artists, both of whom have a style that is sprung from the melancholy palette of the British Isles, share the ability to distil a sense-of-place essence with a seemingly effortless grace.

Cathy Lomax

William Scott (1913-1989)

William Scott
The Hepworth Wakefield
25 May – 29 September 2013

Image Captions:
William Scott, Still Life with Orange Note, 1970, Collection Ulster Museums Northern Ireland, © 2013 estate of William Scott
William Scott, Still Life with Candlestick, 1949-50, Private Collectiion, © 2013 estate of William Scott 
William Scott, An Orchard of Pears No.10, 1976-77, © 2013 estate of William Scott 

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