William Scott @ Karsten Schubert

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

William Scott @ Karsten Schubert

Postby CAP » Sat May 25, 2013 11:21 am

A modest show of drawings from the 50s by old guard stalwart Scott. Everyone loves old Scotty. He was a very charming man. There are no surprises here, but sometimes shows like this are helpful in focussing issues. Here the whole business of abstraction versus figuration is stripped down to line, worked out on pretty much just the female nude (sometimes the model is clothed) in a hesitant, dogged way. Very 50s, very British. Not for Scotty the daring thrusts of Picasso or the brittle pirouettes of Klee, the slamming of de Kooning or the endless fudging of Giacometti. Steady on, old boy. Except Scotty never was an old boy and steady was not quite for him.

By the 50s we’re not talking about the discovery of abstraction or the daunting voyage to the absolute. By the middle of the century we’re talking about the round trip, back to figuration, the concessions to relativism, pluralism and the end of rationing, sooner or later. Blame it on existentialism. Blame it on Wittgenstein. Blame it on the boogie. Significantly, the earliest work in the show is the most abstract. So what does an abstract artist look for, back on more concrete terms? Is it a wholesale retreat to realism? Is it a surrender to illustration? Certainly proponents of abstraction would condemn it as backsliding, recidivism. But all along artists have switched between the two, wondered about the dividing line, refused to tow the party line.

So Scott discovers the middle of the road makes for a bumpy ride, gets thrilling when you meet oncoming traffic. And he muddles through. Notably, we don’t get to some reluctant neo-neo classicism, some feeble feint at academicism. Scotty was no Slado. Nor do we end up with crude volumes and some grudging recognition of tone. A restrained Cubism held no attractions. No, even when perving up raised skirts, Scotty is pushing for a more map-like or orthogonal projection. The lines are mapping dogged routes, if not dead ends. Scott is pushing into frosty regions, hard up. He’s not great but he is good. I’m tempted to see a Dubuffet influence here, although Scotty never really got into the extreme impastos, never really let the line ramble languorously. But the timing is prescient. The Scott line is hard won, emphatic but ultimately unresolved. He can’t make up his mind what he’s looking for, where he’s going. He goes over things, can’t quite put them all together. But that’s what drawings are for.

You never sense these drawings becoming routine or too technical. There are issues here and Scotty struggles manfully enough, but in the end it’s colour that matters for him, texture or smearing must do in the charcoal drawings. He looked to drawing then to try and track figuration against abstraction and at most we get an isolated, very familiar motif as suitable content, a breakdown of his tentative procedure. But I’m happy with that, it’s a tide mark. Beam me up.

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