Yesterday I went to see Phantom, an exhibition of paintings by Alison Watt, at the National Gallery. I’d noticed on the NG website that Watt was fascinated by “the suggestive power of fabric”, which sounded cryptic and possibly interesting, so I thought I’d have a look. It’s a small exhibition (and free) – only 7 paintings, plus Saint Francis in Meditation (1635-9) by Zurbaran, a painting which began Watt’s love-affair with fabric – she describes the fabric in the painting as “like a living mass”, “so sculptural, it seems as if the folds have been carved rather than painted.”
There is a short film about the pieces, in which Watt says that it’s about “negative space” – something particularly apparent in Eye, which is not so much a window of the soul as a porthole looking out onto nothingness. However, I think it appealed to me because of the very – fabric-ness of it. White is usually seen as uncomplicated, simple – white sheets, white paper, white snow. This is a very complicated white indeed – shadowed and textured and deep, somehow more complex than colour (and usually, I’m a sucker for colour, bold primaries, hence my interest in Pre-Raphaelitism). Walking towards Root, I felt as though I was going to be sucked into a vortex of whiteness, and quite welcomed the idea (even though my childhood nightmares were about this!) The paintings reminded me of rumpled sheets, which are usually fraught with emotions – even if only in an “I must do the laundry” kind of way…

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