Artwork of the Month - March 2016

William_Scott__Figure_Relief__1956.jpg
Figure Relief, 1956

Figure Relief
1956
Bronze
147.3 cm / 58 in high
Whereabouts unknown

When a student at the RA Schools, Scott had originally studied sculpture. He later explained that the switch to painting had been driven less by artistic inclination and more by pragmatism: ‘One had to be pretty mobile in the early thirties. We changed our digs so frequently that the less gear we had to drag from one place to another the better.’ So it is perhaps not surprising that it was a medium to which Scott returned in the 1950s (studio space was no longer a problem), working on sculptures and paintings simultaneously, the practice of each informing the other. The close relationship between his sculpture and painting was noted by the art critic for The Times in 1955 when one of Scott’s concrete torsos was included in the exhibition New Sculptors and Painter-Sculptors at the ICA: ‘Mr Scott, always an extremely able painter, is one whose art has recently been blessed by one of those splendid and mysterious forward leaps that are the sure sign of a truly creative talent. His single sculpture here on view – a big flat concrete figure – reminds one of the large, strong forms of his recent paintings.’ (The Times, 12 August 1955)

Figure Relief, executed the following year, was included in Scott’s one-man exhibition which opened at the Hanover Gallery in London in September 1956. Andrew Forge, writing in The Listener, focused much of his review upon the six sculptures shown: ‘The sculpture throws much light on Scott’s painting, especially certain oblong torsos only a few inches thick, the fronts of which are worked into shallow hallows and mounds. The picture ‘Standing Nude’ is very close to these sculptures indeed; not that it is a picture of the sculpture, nor a study for it; it is an exactly equivalent work.’ (The Listener, 18 October 1956) This equivalence is revealed in a black-and-white photograph of Scott holding Figure Relief in front of Standing Nude (the painting to which Forge referred). The composition of the photograph – juxtaposing of the two works – must surely have been intentional.

Scott’s return to sculpture may well have been inspired by the proximity at Bath Academy of Art, where he was at that time Senior Painting Master, to other sculptors, most notably Kenneth Armitage. Scott’s sculptures also connect, however, to the work of his wife Mary and it is perhaps no coincidence that he turned again to sculpture during a particularly fruitful period for her (Mary exhibited at the Hanover Gallery in the months leading up to her husband’s 1956 show). Their work, certainly, is complementary. By the end of the 1950s, Scott had ceased to make sculptures but those that survive add to our understanding of his oeuvre, and deserve to be remembered.

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