The veteran West Cork-born artist Patrick Scott is the subject of a major retrospective in Dublin and Carlow, Tina Darb O’Sullivan reports
In his tenth decade, artist Patrick Scott is honoured in Image Space Light, a major retrospective opening this week at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin and VISUAL, Carlow. VISUAL’S Link Gallery also plays host to a selection of Scott’s work by artist Corban Walker, along with a new site-specific artwork Walker has made in response to Scott’s practice.
Orchestrated by curator Christina Kennedy, who is head of collections at IMMA, the twin exhibitions that constitute Image Space Light illuminate the full extent of Scott’s career.
Scott was born in Kilbrittain, Co Cork, in 1921 and schooled at St Columba’s, Rathfarnham, followed by architectural training at University College Dublin. After graduating, he worked under architect Michael Scott, who later formed Scott Tallon Walker, the leading firm in Irish modernist architecture. All the while, he painted in his own time.
Christine Kennedy pinpoints the White Stag group of painters as being a major factor in Scott’s decision to pursue a career an artist. “In 1942 he first showed with the White Stag group, who were mainly British artists who had settled in Dublin. They were a breath of fresh air for people working in the arts here, as it was the time of the Emergency and people were cut off.”
The White Stag group disbanded after World War II as many returned to Britain. Scott’s painting had gathered momentum at this point, says Kennedy; “While he associated with them and enjoyed their company he wasn’t overly influenced by them, he ploughed his own furrow.”
The mosaics at the Busáras terminal in Dublin were designed by Scott between 1945 — 53. He later designed the black and orange livery for the CIE trains to homogenise the interiors of the mismatched carriages. The scheme was inspired by the colouring of his pet cat, Miss Mouse.
A weekly train journey across the Bog of Allen to a client in the west sparked a new mood in Scott’s paintings. His unprimed linens were soaked in paint to create a softer, more whimsical effect. “When he does his bog paintings, that’s where he really finds his idiom,” says Kennedy. “The tapestry works start at that same time as well, that’s when he really finds his direction.”
For 36 years Scott Tallon Walker commissioned Scott to design the firm’s Christmas card. They serve as an index of his thinking over the decades.
Kennedy worked on Scott’s last major exhibition at Dublin City Gallery: the Hugh Lane, in 2002, and has an intimate knowledge of the work. “He’s always been interested in colour and is an amazing colourist, but you mainly see it in his tapestries.”
Scott took up painting full-time in 1960, the year he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale. His work is representedin numerous private and public collections , including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, as well as at IMMA and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.
He was elected a Saoi of Aosdána by President Mary McAleese in 2007.
‘Patrick Scott: Image Space Light’ falls into two parts, says Kennedy. “What’s appearing at IMMA will be the early decades of his career, the 1940s to roughly about 1970; From the White Stag through to the early gold paintings. At VISUAL, Carlow we pick up from then until the present day.”
VISUAL’s high ceilings make it one of the few galleries that can exhibit Scott’s tapestries. These were designed for corporate spaces — Scott was one of the first Irish-based artists to ‘go big’, in keeping with the new wave of modernist buildings. “We will show quite a number of his tapestries and rugs,” says Kennedy, “as well as a huge work on canvas called ‘Kite’, which is 20 feet square, and comes from Trinity College’s collection.”
In his Device Series, Scott used big explosive areas of paint. These were his most political pieces. Kennedy describes them as “a series of paintings in which the artist registered his dismay at the testing of H-bombs by painting abstract ‘explosions’ of diffused and dripped colour to symbolise the terrifying beauty of such destruction.
“I wouldn’t call them protest works but at the same time they are making a statement, creating an awareness. They would’ve been very distinctive and unique in Irish art terms of the period.”
Scott’s Gold paintings define his later career, their Zen minimalism harking back to his college days, when he read up on Japanese art and admired the work of Le Corbusier. In the 1980s and ‘90s Scott finally travelled to China and Japan.
“The sparseness of these works and the economy of line, that whole oriental aesthetic is really strong,” says Kennedy.
An anthology has been published for which Kennedy invited 16 contributors to write about different periods in Scott’s life. “There’s one overarching essay by Mel Gooding, who is an eminent British art critic and writer, and then there is a collection of short texts by a number of collectors, friends, artists and professional collaborators who have worked with Pat over the years. So it gives a very rounded sense of Pat’s practice and lots of different points of view.”
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