Rising to prominence in 1987 as a student at the Glasgow School of Art, after winning a commission to paint HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, Alison Watt together with her compatriot Jenny Saville led the way in British figurative painting in the 1990s with a focussed, precise and intensely observed style in sharp contrast to the YBA movement.
During the 1990s the focus of Watt’s painting was highly realistic posed female forms. The offered work, a self-portrait of the artist, dates from the mid-1990s (probably 1995) when Watt was making a series of paintings entitled ‘Body Parts’. Working intensely with both life models and her own body, she focussed on producing composite images which led to subtle distortions of form.
Taking as its focus an intimate section of her own midriff, and a hand placed delicately, if somewhat awkwardly, over her abdomen this is a sensitive and sensuous portrait capturing the delicacy of skin, a softness that is immediately recognisable as Watt’s signature in painting. The subtle colour palette, chalky whites and delicate pinks, together with the exclusion of a head makes this a study of flesh, an intimate aperture into a private world that both invites the viewer in, whilst keeping the voyeur at a distance, and is faintly reminiscent of the work of Lucien Freud.
The present work is significant in representing Watt’s interplay between figuration and abstraction and came at a defining point in her career. Referencing her earlier more representational style and focus on the figurative nude, whilst the contours of the flesh and delicate handling of paint foretells her move to softly folding fabrics and form that would become the focus of her work in subsequent years, including her highly influential exhibition Shift at the National Gallery of Scotland in 2000.
We were delighted to offer this beautifully composed work by Alison Watt in our January 2020 auction of Contemporary & Post-War Art in Edinburgh alongside her '1030' and 'Head II'.