STAR, Oil on Board,,21.6 x 17.8cm © the artist, courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and New York
While still a student Alison Watt came to national attention when she was commissioned to paint Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, after winning the 1987 John Player Portrait Award. I first saw her work in 2008 when I visited Phantom, an exhibition marking the end of her 2 year spell as National Gallery Associate Artist, the youngest in the scheme's history. It consisted of six massive paintings inspired by works from the Gallery’s permanent collection, in particular St Francis in Meditation by Zubarin (1598 - 1664) and .Madame Maitessie by Ingres (1956). The beautifully designed exhibition catalogue accompanying the show, and published by the National Gallery, also debuted powerful work by Scottish poet Don Paterson, recipient of both the Whitbread and T.S. Eliot Prizes for Poetry. As it happens three days ago he was awarded the Costa prize for his latest collection, 40 Sonnets, published by Faber and Faber.
And what connection is there between the Watt's tiny painting Star, and Phantom's massive canvases which spread over 2 or 3 metres? Well, both appear at first to be overwhelmingly white, but at the Phantom exhibition 'this sensation is arrived at by the surprisingly varied palette that includes grey, burnt sienna, cadmium red and yellow'. I wonder if that is true of Star too?
Secondly, and more importantly,
..all these 'paintings are there to be experienced as events. They are also to be meditated on, and to be enjoyed by the senses; to be felt through the eye'.
John Hoyand, whose words have a wider appllication than his own work
And Don Paterson's poem seems to me to apply equally to poetry and painting
...In the same way that the mindless diamond keeps
one spark of the planet's early fires
trapped forever in its net of ice,
it's not love's later heat that poetry holds,
but the atom of the love that drew it forth
from the silence: