Pat Douthwaite: The Outsider

Publication: The Times.    
June 2016

Pat Douthwaite
The Outsider
The Scottish Gallery

The title of this major show by Pat Douthwaite, who died in 2002 aged 68, is well chosen. It reveals her status both as an individual and as an artist, who stood outside society and the art world. Douthwaite was a difficult, if not impossible, personality and her self-destructive impetus (she suffered from bi-polar disorder) harmed her relationships and her career. She often made enemies from her most loyal supporters.  Her various addictions and dependencies fuelled paranoid and abusive behaviours. It is possible to read all of this ­­ – and a great deal more – into her often intensely autobiographical and self-absorbed work, as she, Douthwaite, was frequently the subject and object, of her own, agonised, art. Early in her career Douthwaite was encouraged and supported by the dancer Margaret Morris and her husband, J D Fergusson. Although she studied dance, Douthwaite was persuaded by Fergusson not to undergo a formal art school training.  Fergusson clearly recognised Douthwaite’s innate, untutored talent (may we term it ‘genius’?) and posterity may have the older artist to thank for Douthwaite’s singular and rich legacy. Although Douthwaite’s style and subject matter evolved over the five decades of her prodigious output, there are constants. An early monotype, ‘Man Smiling’ from 1959, depicts a figure, in muted browns, and undoubtedly shows the influence of her friends, the painters Colquhoun and MacBryde. There is no attempt at or desire for realism; the image is expressionistic in its truest sense, conveying mood and atmosphere.  Throughout her career, the figure was almost never absent and manifested itself in a panoply of sometimes weird and sometimes humorous characters: skeletons, strippers, outcasts, degenerates. Alongside this disconcerting imagery, which seeped to the forefront of her consciousness with abandon, there are lighter moments: family groups, dogs, peacocks and even a still, contemplative abstract, Orkney Landscape, completed a couple of years before Douthwaite died. It is in such work that Douthwaite appears to find the peace and harmony that eluded her for most of her life. Douthwaite was an inveterate traveller – her journeys included the Indian subcontinent, South America and Eastern Europe. On a trip to Poland, with Richard Demarco, in 1989, she sat on the back seat of the tour bus, in heavy but immaculate make-up, attired in a head-scarf and leopard skin coat, for all the world like one of the heroines from her vast cast of misfits. She was aloof, inscrutable, distant. But behind the dark glasses and her artfully gesticulated smoking, one knew that nothing escaped her scrutiny. The experiences, the places, the people were being processed and would, in time, find expression in another remarkable series of imagery, mixing dark humour, with horror, and a paradoxical fascination for life.