Publication: The Times
Alison Watt & Don Paterson
Hiding in Full View
Until 28 January, 2012
Over the years the painter Alison Watt, who was born in Greenock in1965, has received a number of significant plaudits. In 2000 she was the youngest artist to be given a show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. From 2006 she spent two years as Associate Artist at the National Gallery in London – an OBE followed in the 2008.
Watt may thus be seen as a relatively young artist of prodigious talent who has benefitted from some of the best available opportunities. Here she has collaborated with the poet Don Paterson (himself an OBE and winner of the Queen’s Medal for Poetry in 2010) to produce a new body of work which develops some earlier themes.
Clearly Watt is a painter who deserves serious consideration. Since 1997, when her exhibition ‘Fold’ opened at the Fruitmarket Gallery, her work has concentrated on fabric and materials. That show revealed Watt’s particular interest in the French 19th century painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres whose work ‘Madame Moitessier’ (1859) Watt had seen as a teenager.
Gradually Watt eschewed figurative concerns altogether in her significantly-named SNGMA show, ‘Shift’ which concentrated solely on fabric as her work edged ever closer to abstraction. ‘Shift’ was as much about the absence of the human figure as about the presence of shape, form, texture and tone.
Thus Watt’s current work concerns the poetics of absence and the implied presence of non-visible elements such as sensuality, eroticism and the body.
Both Paterson and Watt have also considered the work of the US photographer Francesca Woodman, who died in 1981 at the tragically young age of 22. Three of Woodman’s photographs are to be found here. They are small delicate works and, like Watt’s paintings, they are a form of self-portraiture: deeply revelatory and strangely elegiac. One shows a woman whose face is obscured by her hair; in another, a figure, swathed in plastic wrapping, seems to lurk in the corner of an abandoned room. The paradox that deliberate obscuration is more revelatory than full exposure can be applied equally to both artists. It is an aspect of the work which Paterson clearly understands:
All rooms will hide you, if you stand just so. Ghosts know this. That’s really all they know.
Paterson’s words literally punctuate Watt’s images, as the poet’s work has been painted directly onto the gallery walls. Thus, the words have been freed from the bound page forcing themselves, however gently, upon our consciousness and forging links between particular images and particular phrases:
At the spiral’s heart, there is a hollow sun by which we are constructed and undone
The ‘hollow sun’ invokes both a camera’s aperture mechanism as well as Watt’s dark, deeply suggestive folds and creases.
For all their darkness and understated passion, there is a deep humanity in these words, paintings and photographs which makes experiencing them compelling and rewarding.