Alison Watt, Angel, 2010 [collection of the Uffizi Gallery]
In the spring of last year Alison Watt was commissioned by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to make a work for their celebrated collection of self-portraits by women artists. This was an unusual commission, not least because it came nearly 15 years after Watt had last painted the human figure. Since relinquishing the figure in 1997 she has edged towards abstraction, painting swathes of fabric suggestive of both a human presence and absence. This way of working culminated in her solo exhibition Phantom, at the National Gallery in London in the summer of 2008.
The request from the Uffizi instigated a new way of thinking for Watt. Her preceding series of paintings had looked to the old masters - especially to Ingres, and in the National Gallery show, to Zurbaran - but the request to re-visit the idea of a self-portrait turned Watt's attention to a small photograph by the American artist Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
"I have thought a lot about the nature of self portraiture, there has always been an element of it in my paintings. From the very beginning when I would stand in front of a mirror and paint myself obsessively, to the more subtle representations of self which are present in the work now. Much of my work is about the transformation of an object into an idea, and in the process of painting the work for the Uffizi I found myself looking closely at the photographs of Francesca Woodman. One of the many things I found fascinating about Woodman's work is her use of the object in her self-portraits, and how the two elements of self and object often merge. If it was possible to create a painting that was difficult to identify and at the same time incredibly intimate, that was what I wanted to do". [Alison Watt 2010]
Watt titled her 'self portrait' Angel after the title of a Woodman photograph, and in the autumn of 2010 the two artists' work hung side by side in the Uffizi's exhibition Autoriatratto. Since then Watt has continued to look to Woodman's work, taking indirect inspiration from the almost hypnotic imagery of Woodman's intense and dreamlike tableaux. This has resulted in a new series of paintings, to be unveiled at Ingleby Gallery this November.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an artist's book published by Ingleby Gallery and made in collaboration with the poet Don Paterson, featuring a new poem written in response to the work of both Watt and Woodman.