Artwork of the Month - November 2015

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Egypt Series (No. 2), 1972

Egypt Series (No. 2)
1972
Oil on canvas
204 x 254 cm / 80¼ x 100 in
Signed verso W. SCOTT 72
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, USA

In the spring of 1972, William Scott had major retrospective exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London. Instead of seeing this landmark show as a time to slow down, Scott responded by painting a series of ambitious works. They were inspired – as several of Scott’s paintings had been in the late 1950s – by Egyptian limestone reliefs. The five canvases which make up the 1972 Egypt Series are all large; none measure less than 2 by 2 and a half metres. In all probability, Scott painted them with the American market in mind (all were included in his exhibition held at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in January 1973). The scale adds both a sense of monumentality to these paintings, and makes them redolent of those stone walls on which the hieroglyphics which informed Scott’s vision would have originally been painted. It is likely that Scott had in mind not only Egyptian art but also the cave paintings at Lascaux and the frescoes at Pompeii, both of which had made a strong impression on him in the 1950s: ‘the Romans, working within the classical tradition could still achieve a great deal of what the primitives had achieved. They could make sculptures and paintings with the same directness that the primitives felt and remain classical.’ (British Council Lecture, 1959) In Egypt Series (No. 2) we find that same combination; the primitive language of signs enveloped within a classical compositional clarity. The forms, however, are very self-referential; the frying-pan, the pot – these signs (mere outlines of shapes in some instances) can only be read as such due to the rich pictorial vocabulary which Scott had firmly established by the 1970s. Scott would continue to deploy these forms throughout the rest of his career but perhaps nowhere as successfully, or as beautifully, as in Egypt Series (No. 2).