Watt's early interest in the human form shown in Source Ill 1995 (right) gave way to the sensual patterns of fabric (below) under the influence of Ingres (far right)
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next body of work. When 1 was making the diptychs for the show. what became clear was that the fabric sections of the diptychs seemed to be more sensual.’ Monumental in size. when you consider Watt's petite frame. the
paintings again refer to the work of
Ingres. in particular. his famous paintings of the Riviere family — Madame Riviere and her daughter. At the time Ingres was criticised for favouring the portrayal of the cloth. rather than the sitter. It would seem then. that Watt shares his view. The placing of the fabric takes days to set up. each painting taking two to three. months to complete. The figures may have gone. but the suggestion remains. The folds. gradual curling of the pleats. the undulating surface on the fabric. the swags. swathes. tucks and gathers evoke the human form. Breathing life into the drapery. Watt captures every detail with intense dexterity.
20 THE “ST 16—30 Nov 2000
‘On the one hand I‘m trying to subject the fabric to intense scrutiny but on the other. I‘m trying to alter and displace it in some kind of way.‘ says Watt. ‘What really interests me is how things are reproduced. the longer you look at something. the more familiar you are with it and the more abstract it becomes.‘
She adds: ‘We all have different ideas of what fabric means to us. Certainly. surface is important to me as I feel that the surface of paintings should appeal to the senses. Of course. there are the very obvious senses like seeing and touching. but then there‘s also strange or less tangible features like scent or even sound. For me. fabric has that same quality that music or smelling something can have which takes you back to a particular time or memory. I‘m interested in exploring that side of fabric rather than the purely visual.’
Although Watt has enjoyed phenomenal success throughout her career. she‘s not part of the current contemporary scene. Being a painter is isolating. spending hours in the studio, with no contact with the outside world. But Watt is not averse to new ideas in the way she presents her work. With the nudes gone and the fabric in its place. what‘s next on her artistic agenda? ‘1 have been painting for such a long time now that what I would really like to do is an installation piece.’ she says. ‘I would love to paint directly in the space. something religious perhaps, that would be completely enveloped in fabric.‘
A Sistine Chapel ceiling for the 21st century perhaps?
Shift: New Work By Alison Watt opens at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh on Sat 18 Nov.