Pat Douthwaite — Retrospective 1960-2000

June 2000

Publication: The Times

In a remarkably frank and touching introduction to the work of the painter Pat Douthwaite, Douglas Hall — former Keeper of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art — writes: “At  a period when artists even of the avant-garde were planning their careers like any other ambitious professionals, always mindful of their image and place in the pecking order, Douthwaite was self-destructing as well as being the victim of some crushing misfortunes”. 

This idea of wilful self-destruction and of fated ill-fortune seems central to Douthwaite’s often bleak but honest view of herself and the world she inhabits.  Her portraits of femmes fatales, female icons, outcasts and goddesses — drawn with a convoluted, tortured line — are intense observations of the psyche imploding in agony.   But it would be facile to suggest that these works are solely autobiographical; they are clearly more than that.  Douthwaite extends her own experience to meet that of others — often flawed but nevertheless remarkable women — such as the aviator Amy Johnson or the screen siren Theda Bara.

Despite a career which has included a number of large-scale shows in prestigious venues, Douthwaite has always retained an ‘outsider’ status.  Perhaps this is because of her lack of formal training; or because, for much of her life, she has lived in England detached from her Scottish roots; again, her vulnerability and femininity have also perhaps been contributory.  Whatever the reasons, her vision has remained isolated, lonely — but paradoxically involved.

In its ability to disturb with the portrayal of vicious cruelty, Douthwaite’s work — at its best — approaches that of Francis Bacon.  Her ‘Skeleton in a Red Dress Dress’, which dates from 1971, is a case in point.  A contorted figure with blackened limbs, floats spectre-like against a background of acid yellow; a hollowed skull, with gaping darkened mouth and eye-sockets, seems transfixed in perpetual agony.  Its companion piece, ‘Skeleton with Baby’ is no less disturbing — a tour-de-force in violently opposing colours and tremulous lines. 

Other equally disconcerting works include ‘Vixen, Goddess of Teumnessus’ or ‘Miss Has-Been’.  Their power derives from Douthwaite’s ability to convey raw, emotional states, achieved not only through colour and subject-matter, but also in the depiction of expressive, gestural components — a withered hand; large, exaggerated eyes; or a gaping mouth.  Although the individual elements of these pieces can be witnessed in the work of scores of artists over the past 100 years or so, they find a particular combination here, making Douthwaite’s work instantly recognisable and unique.

Amongst all of this pain and confusion, there are lighter moments.  Douthwaite seeks solace in the depiction of animals; her elephants are fun and her pastel study of a Dalmation ‘Henry Dooley’ becomes an almost abstract arrangement of spots and shapes.

This is a timely show but it should not act as a substitute for a larger, fuller retrospective at sometime in the near future.

 

Pat Douthwaite — Retrospective 1960-2000

The Scottish Gallery

16 Dundas Street

Edinburgh

0131 558 1200

www.scottish-gallery.co.uk

Until 28 June

 

Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 14-06-00