I KNEW Pat Scott all my life, as he was one of my parents’ closest friends. We were fellow lane dwellers in mews houses close to the city centre in Dublin: we lived in a house designed by my father in St Mary’s Lane, and Pat in a converted coach house in Baggot Lane, where he remained until his death last month. The ‘Pats’ — Pat Scott and his partner Pat McLarnon — were at the centre of my parents’ core crew.
Pat Scott was frequently in and out of our house. He was very tall and gentle in his leather and sheepskin flying jacket, often with a faint smell of cat pee as he had so many cats. Including, of course, Miss Mouse, made famous by her portrait. Pat’s cat Markey (short for the Marquis de Baggot) comforted him recently when he was sick. Pat adored him.
Pat wore red Kickers boots. It was unusual for a young girl to be envious of a middle aged man’s footwear, but I always wanted a pair of those red Kickers and I have to admit being a little jealous as well of his colourful collection of socks. Pat always seemed happy and relaxed; people naturally warmed to him as he seemed to instil that sense of calm into those in his company.
At Christmas he would arrive with a huge flat circular basket, picked up on his travels in Thailand or Cambodia probably, filled with goodies for us all. Among the treats were Japanese origami figures, Mexican tin toys, giant lollipops, and amazing bits and pieces from all over the world. The baskets became our laundry baskets; I still have one for the ironing at home. The lollipops would last us for the week that we spent from St Stephen’s Day through the New Year in Ballynabrocky, Pat’s second home in the Wicklow mountains. We absolutely loved staying up in Pat’s for that week every year. My parents would insist we make the “Christmas pact”, so no fighting, but we always fought over the water bed, that exotic piece of furniture on the mezzanine over the kitchen, which finally met its end when my brother Simon burst it in the 1980s.
Pat’s neighbours were sheep farmers who would ask him to tell my parents to stop the children praying for snow, as our prayers were often answered. The house in Ballynabrocky is full of Pat’s pieces of furniture and artefacts.
Pat came to visit me when I was living in Japan for a while. I was in Hiroshima, where a local speciality is okinomiyaki, a kind of pancake cooked in front of you on a hot plate with bacon, eggs and cabbage, served with a rich sticky soy sauce. He loved the Japanese dish with an Irish twist.
Pat’s paintings were so much a part of my growing up that in a way it’s hard to look at them objectively. I love them as something familiar and part of my family and home, as well as their sense of being a constant discipline for me working as an artist. The early Klee-like work I loved as a child; the ‘Evening Landscape 1944’ hung in our kitchen. The bog paintings are those that influence my own work the most. But the pure gold on linen are those that I love best.
Living with the tapestry ‘Lane’ (I named it when it was being lent to the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 1981, it had never been titled) makes my current home on the Beara peninsula feel like an extension to our household growing up with Pat.
Bóthar Buí was our holiday house and the reason I came to live in Beara. Pat came to Bóthar Buí every summer; my mother always gave him a bed in the ‘oratory’, which is a tiny converted stone animal shed. In those days it had a narrow iron cot bed which Pat later said was the most uncomfortable bed he ever had to sleep in. But of course he never complained at the time; he would appear through the low door of his cell every morning with a smile.
One year, he avoided the iron cot by bringing a tent. He left a very funny drawing of himself in the tent in the visitors’ book, the tent made of a folded paper napkin he stuck on the page.
I remember Pat happily chatting in the kitchen yard in his whites; Mexican shirt, jeans and espadrilles. He was usually casual in jeans and check shirts, but he wore the beautiful cream raw silk suit made for him in Bangkok on his wedding day last November, just as he had at our wedding and other special occasions. He also sported several of the knitted ties my mother made for her friends.
After my father Robin died, Pat took over his chair at the table in Bóthar Buí. But he never came back after my mother died; I think it would have been too sad without both of them after all the happy times spent there together. But a few years ago he came to see my gallery in Castletownbere with Eric Pearse, his long-time partner whom he married shortly before his death. Eric is as much family to us as Pat was.
Pat’s complete affinity with youth made him a friend of those much younger than him as well as his contemporaries. I remember about 10 years ago, after he had been to Australia to visit his sisters, I asked him how they were and he replied, “Well, you know, they’re old ladies”. It dawned on me that they were in their late 80s, but we never ever thought of Pat as an old man, even though he lived until the great age of 93.
We waked Pat when he died, on Valentine’s Day, on the eve of the opening of his exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. He was laid out perfectly in his room among paintings of his peers, Kenneth Hall from the White Stag group, and Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett among others.
Lelia Doolin, Pat’s great friend, said to all of us gathered in the house, “Come on, Pat wouldn’t like to miss the party, everyone upstairs!” So we spent the night with him. Liam Ó Maonlaí played the whistle, my brother Simon read Pat’s favourite Séamus Heaney poem, ‘An Architect’, which is about my father. Pat was kept company, surrounded by love, as he cooled down.
The next day, my sister-in-law Cyane picked crocus buds from the garden and handed one to everyone in the room who was there to see Pat off. The flowers opened in seconds in our hands and we placed them on his coffin before he was driven away, we clapped him all the way until the hearse turned at the end of the lane.
8 Sarah Walker runs the Sarah Walker Gallery in Castletownbere
It is a testament to the longevity of Patrick Scott’s career that his final works were for a building that has not even opened yet. He was unstintingly productive for over seven decades. The building is the Picture Palace in Galway, an independent cinema now adorned by three stained-glass windows by Scott — in vibrant greens and blues, with, of course, the inevitable circle motif so strongly associated with his work.
He has finished where he started: with a public piece of art in a public building. As an architect at the outset of his career, he worked on Michael Scott’s Busaras, crafting the mosaics on the building’s exterior.
Scott was born in Kilbrittain, Co Cork, in 1921, and came into architecture via UCD. But he always continued to paint, embracing the modernism of the White Stag Group that gathered in Dublin during the war years. Finally, emboldened perhaps by his representing Ireland at the 1960 Venice Biennale, he became a painter full time.
The same year, an award of $1,000 at the Guggenheim International Exhibition meant he could buy the house in Dublin, off Baggot Street, that would become his base of operations for the rest of his days.
Thus, Scott inaugurated one of the most distinguished careers in 20th-century Irish art. But even then his work was not only to be seen in galleries. Working for a design consultancy he formed with Louis le Brocquy and Michael Scott, Scott came up with the iconic orange and black livery of CIE’s intercity trains. He also worked as a set designer, was on the board of Kilkenny Design, and, for 36 years, designed the Christmas cards for Scott Tallon Walker architects.
Scott was a famous artist, to be sure, but, through such work, his aesthetic sensibility reached people who’d never even heard of him.
No matter what the subject, Scott’s work always has a purity and economy about it. Even a rather playful early work like Evening Landscape (1942), with its cartoonish pheasants and ducks, is in an abstract, flat plain, divided into boxes.
Those geometrical tendencies found their purest expression in his later-period works, which followed the re-emergence of the Zen Buddhism he became interested in during the 1950s. His explorations of form and the colour gold in particular create a clean aesthetic: elegant, simple and harmonious.
Yet that trademark gold lends the works a rich metaphorical quality too. There is a sense of wondering in them at the fundamental questions of life, the origins of all energy.
In them, two of his influences seem to gather perfectly here: the expansive Atlantic skies of his childhood, and, looking east again, the flat sun as depicted on the Japanese flag. Scott became a man of the world in art, but knew, too, the value of being more than merely cosmopolitan.
The retrospective Scott worked on in his last years, and which opened the day after his death, is a timely opportunity to see the breadth of his contribution. It is divided between the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and Visual in Carlow. If ever an artist deserved two pilgrimages, Scott is the one.
* Patrick Scott: Image Space Light is at IMMA until June 22 and VISUAL, Carlow, until May 11.