New York

William Scott

It is difficult to look at William Scott’s large show of paintings at Martha Jackson and not think at all of Robert Motherwell, which seems to mean, if only implicitly, thinking of Matisse and Miró as well. There is no problem distinguishing Scott’s paintings from theirs, but the particular way representational shapes and still-life situations are reduced to simple abstract forms, and in many paintings, the way the paint is handled, the kind of line and brushwork around a line is so close to those painters that comparison and the sense of a certain degree of derivation seems to me unavoidable. The representational content of Scott’s paintings, the object-shapes from which his abstract forms are derived are kitchenware and the situation of the kitchen table with pots, pans, plates, bowls, cups, etc., all reduced to simple smooth regular shapes. Sometimes the shape is simply a closed rounded contour line, and at other times, the shape consists of a silhouette against a different colored ground, even if only to the extent of being a different shade of white. In other instances, a synthesis occurs in which a contour line encloses a color contrasting to the ground color subtly or sharply.

I gather that Scott is interested in the difference between the drawn shape and the filled-in shape and possibly in the different kinds of existence these kinds of shapes have within a painting; but, in the end, Scott is a formalist and his interest in these differences is, undoubtedly, ultimately formal. The paintings which seem closest to Motherwell are those in which contour lines enclose shapes on a loosely brushed, monochrome ground in which the direction of the brushstrokes clearly is contingent on proximity to the contour line and its shape, giving the line an emphasis, as if it were embedded in the ground. The connection with Motherwell is with his “Open Series” and what has followed, which relate ground brushstroke and line in the same way recalling Matisse’s View of Notre Dame of 1914. When Scott’s handling of paint is not like that of recent Motherwell, the paint is solid and flat which, in combination with the kind of shape he uses, comes out looking primitive, more in terms of art school than Rousseau.

––Bruce Boice