Artwork of the Month - August 2017

Ocean, 1960 or 1961

1960 or 1961
Oil on canvas
183.5 x 122.4 cm / 72¼ x 48¼ in
Sir Alan and Lady Bowness

It was the only recent painting singled out by John Russell in his catalogue introduction to the exhibition, observing that by now Scott’s ‘American experience has at last worked itself out directly,’ and that ‘among his friends, it is to Rothko, rather than to Kline, that Scott is nearest.’ Russell goes on to say, ‘But even in a picture like “Ocean” which comes very close to Rothko, the painter’s own personality has the last word, with graffiti-like markings to relate the picture to the life of the street and the wraiths of Scott’s batterie de cuisine to remind us that we are, after all, three thousand miles away from New York.’ Pierre Rouve, writing about the exhibition in Arts Review, linked Scott with Roger Hilton, ‘that solitary master of the laconic statement’. ‘Their world,’ Rouve continued, ‘is not the rarefied atmosphere of formal permutations, it is the domain of man aware of his earthly nobility. That is why there is such a heavy load of unadulterated, contagious emotion in Scott’s graphic directness in Circles Diminishing [another painting of 1961] – or in the vibrating wide expanse of Ocean. Stern dignity and absolute honesty merge in an almost religious impact; a religion without idols and without pomp, a religion of the earth, stark and solemn.’

Scott himself showed a slide of the painting in the lecture he recorded for the British Council in 1927, citing Ocean as one of the titles that expressed ‘the mood I was in at that time’, a mood that, as he had explained earlier, came out of the process of ‘looking beyond European art to more ancient cultures: Egypt and Greece’.