Friday, March 9, 2018

Bill Scott Leaf and Line

I couldn't believe the colors that happened to be nearby on my dresser...

I was honored to contribute a writing to my friend and Philadelphia painter Bill Scott's catalog for his show opening at Hollis Taggart next week.  In all honesty I was a bit terrified.  I like to write but it can be a difficult task for me, especially in the context of it being for another painter.  I hope I did justice in writing, my pictures especially don't do justice here.  But the catalog gets close, the reproductions are beautiful.  And the paintings in person are a delight.  Below is my essay and info on the exhibit...







Bill Scott: Reinventing His Rose

On my most recent visit to Bill Scott’s studio, a reproduction of Matisse’s 1942 painting, The Idol, came into view as he moved a large canvas propped against the wall onto the easel for better viewing. His paintings often strike me twice. First comes a flood of pure sensation, as Bonnard once described, “the appearance of things in the exact moment of entering a room.” Colors and air whip up a positively frenzied delight. And then as I settle back into my chair, shaking my head to clear my eyes of the unrelenting beauty of the thing, I can start to really see. Under the bounty lies something much more precarious and daring, hidden in plain sight. The beauty Scott presents rests on an infrastructure that is of our world and of the rules of painting. There is space that expertly opens and closes, foreground spilling forward only to be held up by a dainty violet line, tiny slices of open windows offering a glimpse of cascading shape gardens beyond.

As I sat there reveling in that distinct post-looking-at-good-painting glow that any painter can attest to, I thought harder about why these paintings work while others fail. I have seen previous students and contemporaries try to emulate his expression to no avail. Scott’s work is seductive and relatable and makes painters want to paint, so that is understandable. But it is inimitable; other attempts feel shallow and sugary, somehow simultaneously lacking the search and sophistication. Perhaps it was seeing the Matisse print in such close proximity that night, but I felt as if Matisse had reached into my internal conversation. In a 1953 essay he talks about how a painter must look at the world as if seeing for the first time, not jaded or bleary eyed, but full of wonder, if he ever wants to express a true and original vision. He goes on to say, “I think that nothing is more difficult for a true painter than to paint a rose, since before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.”

Scott seems to be constantly studying other painters’ roses, real roses blooming on Philadelphia fences, his own previous versions of those roses, thinking about them and then reinventing them. He does this not in a haphazard, casual way or in a dramatic, upending way, but by looking out at the world and absorbing its matter and then deliberately attempting to express its grace.


That first striking sensation I feel when I look at his work is this, his pure feeling, that humble, stark acknowledgment of being human and staring directly at the glory of nature, which necessitates a first-person response to be emotive. But for that sensation and invention to maintain power it must be held up by a serious and disciplined understanding of formal consideration. This is the thing that is so masterful, understood by Scott and Matisse alike. The degree of invention is sustained only by the difficult and unyielding parameters of form. Compositional decisions of shape and color are completely devoid of excess, each touch to the surface purposeful and felt. This synthesis of rigorous structure and abundant generosity allow for a world where a circle knocking at the window or a squiggle pausing to catch its breath may be a little whimsical but by no means unbelievable. The familiar is otherworldly, in a kind and forgiving way, positing a place we haven’t really been but hope to visit one day.


Bill Scott Leaf and Line at Hollis Taggart Galleries opens March 15th and continues through April 28th.  

0 comments:

Post a Comment