Parafin is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings by Alison Watt, her second at the gallery.
Watt’s paintings of the last fifteen years have focussed primarily on images of draped cloth, using this motif to explore ideas about the human body through an interplay of presence and absence. However, in what represents a significant shift in her practice, Watt’s new works constitute an interrogation of the genre of still life. The starting point for this body of work was an extended meditation upon Thomas Warrender’s Still Life (1708) in the Scottish National Gallery, a trompe-l’oeildepiction of a letter rack and the only known oil painting by the artist. Many of the objects that appear in Warrender’s painting, such as feathers, envelopes and folded pieces of paper, reappear in Watt’s paintings but are rendered strange by being located in a neutral space. While Watt’s paintings appear at first to be monochrome, close inspection reveals them to be full of profoundly delicate modulations of colour and light, articulated through her carefully worked surfaces. In her paintings, the sheets of paper are blank, as if awaiting a message, or as if the writing they once bore has been erased. The envelopes, which carry letters, bear no addresses. In art history feathers are often associated with freedom or heightened spirituality, but they are also cut into quills, instruments of communication.
A second source of inspiration was the Modernist photography of Margaret Watkins, a Scottish-Canadian artist known primarily for her work in American advertising in the 1920s and 1930s. Like Thomas Warrender, Watkins was much influenced by Dutch still-life painting. She made a highly original series of works using domestic objects, including a length of rubber shower hose, and this inspired Watt’s series of works depicting coils of tubing. The title of the exhibition is a phrase from Joe Mulholland, Margaret Watkin’s neighbour in Scotland, who said that he only knew that she was in, as she was so quiet and discrete, when he saw her shadow on the blind drawn across her window. In this way, the exhibition addresses Watt’s enduring theme, the dichotomy of presence and absence.
The works in ‘A Shadow on the Blind’ were previously exhibited at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, in late 2018.
Widely regarded as one of the leading British painters working today, Alison Watt (born 1965, Greenock) first came to public attention in 1987 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious annual award while still a student at Glasgow School of Art. She subsequently became well known for her paintings of figures, often female nudes, before beginning, in the late 1990s, to focus on the fabric which had previously served as backdrops or props for her figures. Since then Watt’s paintings have continued to negotiate a position close to abstraction while remaining firmly rooted in her studies of drapery, light, the human form and her committed engagement with Old Master paintings and sculpture.
Her work has been exhibited internationally and is held in many important public and private collections around the world. She has had solo exhibitions at major institutions including the National Gallery, London, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.
Important recent exhibitions include ‘Alison Watt; A Shadow on the Blind’, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (2018), ‘The Modern Portrait’, Scottish National Portrait Gallery (2017), ‘Ages of Wonder’, National Galleries of Scotland (2017), ‘Facing The World: Self-Portraits from Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei’, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe, Musée des Beaux- Arts, Lyon and Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (2015), ‘Defining Beauty’, British Museum (2015), ‘Reality: Modern & Contemporary British Painting’, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (2014-15) and ‘Autoriatratto’, Uffizi Gallery (2010).
In 2006-08 Watt was Associate Artist at The National Gallery in London. Works from her residency were shown in her landmark solo exhibition, ‘Phantom’, at the National Gallery in 2008 and Watt was awarded an OBE in the same year. In 2014, as part of the GENERATION programme of exhibitions celebrating recent Scottish art, a retrospective exhibition of Watt’s paintings was held at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, and a solo display was presented at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Watt’s work is included in many important collections including the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, the British Council Collection, London, the Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow, Southampton City Art Gallery, the US Embassy, London, and the Uffizi in Florence.