We are delighted to present a degree show work by renowned contemporary Scottish artist, Alison Watt, in this auction. Planters dates from 1986, the year before Watt graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, and, in a striking demonstration of her precocious talent, also the same year she won the prestigious John Player Portrait Prize (now the BP Portrait Prize). As a result, she was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Queen Mother, and the charming resulting work entered the collection of the National Gallery in London in 1989.
Since her graduation, Watt has had a high-profile and illustrious career, with solo exhibitions at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. She was the youngest ever Associate Artist of the National Gallery in London from 2006-2008 and received an O.B.E. in the 2008 New Year Honours.
In the period immediately after her graduation, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Watt was particularly known for her figurative work, particularly female nudes. At this point, the art world's attention had been captured by a return to a preoccupation with the figurative through the bold, brash work of the New Glasgow Boys; a loose association of artists trained in the Glasgow School of Art throughout the 1980s, including Peter Howson, Adrian Wiszniewski, Steven Campbell, Ken Currie and Stephen Conroy. Watt was a contemporary of theirs, and was enmeshed in this community and moment, though she was working in a softer palette and with a stronger commitment to classical references.
Planters dates from this period and in one striking, early work, sums up many of Watt's artistic pre-occupations. The title itself is laden with meaning, referring as it does to both the figures and the central pot, and suggesting themes of new beginnings, growth, fertility, ritual and nourishment. The deep palette of browns, with beautifully toned blues and greens adding depth, shows her commitment to exploring subtle tonalities - as her career has progressed this has remained an on-going concern as she has moved through periods of working in greys and ultimately a lengthy exploration of white. There is a substance and directness to Planters; both figures (the figure on the right is a self-portrait), look out at us, while the paintings beyond, particularly the one showing an extending road, draw us deeper in. The portrait featured is in fact a self-portrait by Stephen Conroy, fellow art student, New Glasgow Boy and Watt's boyfriend at the time.
From the outset, Watt's work has had a quiet power and lashings of symbolism but as her career has progressed she has moved away from figuration and portraiture. In her solo exhibition in 1997, she began introducing fabric as a subject in her work, and by her exhibition in 2000, she had given over to fabric entirely, showing twelve large canvas of swathes of fabric, the figure now only present in its lingering absence, and the suggestive imprints and textures it has left behind. Watt has continued in this vein for the last 18 years, finding endless inspiration and challenge in this captivating and elusive subject.
The auction of Planters is a wonderful opportunity to see and potentially own a work by this artist from an important moment in her career, where she was just getting started, but her vision and talent was already beautifully established and whole. This work was purchased by the current owner directly from the artist at The Glasgow School of Art Degree Show in 1987.