Alison Watt: Fold (New Paintings 1996-97)

04.10.97 – 15.11.97

Fold (New Paintings 1996-1997) was the first major public solo exhibition by Scottish artist Alison Watt. Commissioned by the Fruitmarket Gallery, it encompassed seven new diptychs, an untitled series of six studies, and three singles pieces, as well as two earlier works from 1995. At that time, the artist’s primary area of interest was focused on the study of the female figure through an engagement with the art of revolutionary and post-revolutionary France.

The diptych series was inspired by the nudes of 19th century painter J.D. Ingres, who explored the complex relationship between beauty and deformity. The appropriation of his images was intrinsic to Watt’s exploration of beauty and the notion of the real and the ideal. In her own words, ‘the paradoxes so evident in the work of this artist have become integral to my own. They display a unique sensibility which did not merely transcend the aesthetic taste of the 19th century. His belief in autonomy through his art laid the foundation for his successors.’ [Alison Watt, Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1997]

Each diptych was composed of depictions of the female nude isolated from its surroundings, emphasizing the physical limits of the canvas. Watt used her own body in conjunction with a life model, thus adding an autobiographical element. The illusionary drapery supports were painted on an enlarged scale on a separate part of the diptych, therefore becoming a kind of still-life disarticulated from any context. Art critic John Calcutt described these works as ‘female figures, stripped, each copped by the limits of the pictorial field which contains it. Figures existing in ambiguous relations to the illusion of space suggested by their imaginary environment.’ [Fruitmarket Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1997]

As part of its Education and Interpretation Programme, the Fruitmarket organised a forum to discuss issues raised by the exhibition. Topics included the changing image of the female nude in Western art and other issues. Additionally, a publication was produced with texts by Rosemary Betterton, Alison Rowley, Roberta McGrath, Alison Watt and Francis McKee.

Marieta Guzman – Fruitmarket Archive Intern, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2022


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