Watt’s new works is an extended engagement with a masterwork by Peter Paul Rubens, Venus Frigida (1614), in the collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Rubens’ inspiration for the figure of Venus was a marble statue he had seen in Rome, and his extraordinary transposition of cold inert stone into voluptuous living flesh is a source of ongoing fascination for Watt.
In her new paintings, such as Venus (2015), Slip (2015) or Moor (2015), the human figure is seemingly absent but it is strongly implied.
The resulting paintings of swathes of fabric are both sensuous and analytical, meditative and powerfully animated, and psychologically charged.
Widely regarded as one of the leading British painters working today, Alison Watt 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.