Magazine article Artforum International

William Scott

Magazine article Artforum International

William Scott

Article excerpt

MCCAFFREY FINE ART

To celebrate the centennial of William Scott's birth, McCaffrey Fine Art mounted a survey of twenty simply delineated, rather poignant later still lifes dating from between 1976 and 1986. The disarming expressiveness of these oddly meek works--showing an outlined pear, a flat white cup, most measuring roughly twenty by twenty inches, some even smaller--stands in vivid contrast to the imposing role in British painting that Scott played in the 1950s. Indeed, by the time these pieces were made, interest in his work had markedly declined, largely because of the era's tidal drift away from painterly virtues toward Conceptual showboating. Scott fell victim to this rising mode of ironic disappre-ciation, as did, it must be noted, the broad front of the once celebrated British painters among whom he was all but standard-bearer. True, Ben Nicholson, the painter with whom Scott most shares deeply critical points of stylistic development, maintains an estimable rank. And Francis Bacon's reputation has grown vastly. But Lucian Freud was only then beginning to be known, more for his tight and mannered quasi-Surrealism--zebras through windows--than for the ambitious signature studio nudes that today guarantee his certain, if notorious, stature. Today, Graham Sutherland's name inspires little more than a lingering curiosity, largely owing to the rumpus occasioned by his spiky portraits of Somerset Maugham and of Her Majesty the Queen. But lesser lights, fine painters such as Keith Vaughan, Victor Pasmore, and Patrick Heron, are all but forgotten or, conversely, are, like Scott, just on the cusp of being rediscovered, though Scott enjoys a considerable head start.

In the US, Scott's dealer was Martha Jackson; this prestigious professional affiliation that led to close ties with Mark Rothko, whose work had a profound influence on him--especially with regard to the luminous, atmospheric, and roseate color of Scott's best work from the '50s. The colored grounds of those ambitious paintings suggest either the wall from which household utensils depend or the picture plane as the table upon which such still-life material is placed, a reminder of the loose Cubist grid from which these compositions ultimately derive (and a harbinger of the flatbed plane).

Imagine a loose grid upon which the shapes of simple domestic referents--some, such as cups, reduced to no more than colored rect-angles--constitute the composition. …

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