Saturday, 3 December 2011

Alison Watt and Don Paterson Hiding in Full View

'Hiding in Full View' is a response to Francesca Woodman's photographs by the painter, Alison Watt currently on show at the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh. Last night I went to a poetry reading held there to launch a book coming out of a collaboration between the artist and the poet, Don Paterson, who responded to both Watt and Woodman. The result is exquisite.

Alison Watt's self-portraits are conveyed through paintings of folds and holes in white fabric. Don Paterson's sonnet is reproduced in large letters, one line at a time, on the wall by each painting. In the book, a painting and a line of poetry are facing pages.

Don Paterson's reading,standing in the semi-dark, echoing space of the Upper Gallery surrounded by Watt's paintings, was an atmospheric event and comprised a selection of new work and some well-known poems such as 'Rain'. The audience, as far as I could tell, were mostly art lovers, with only a few of the usual members of Edinburgh poetry audiences there. A pity. The new sonnet was stunning. Worth it to have gone just to hear the one poem.

In fact, in a way, I wish Don had just read the one poem and let us meditate on it whilst viewing the paintings. I suppose the organizers and probably Don felt he had to give the usual 20 minute slot that poetry readings consist of. A small cavil. I don't mind how many times I hear the wonderful 'Rain'.

I was aware of Francesa Woodman's photographs before. They speak very strongly to a (particularly) female fragility and lack of a sense of identity. It was devastating to learn that Francesca was only 22 when she committed suicide. The photographs do hint at this sad fate, her psychic distress is so evident.

But after such a quick visit, I don't feel I can write in more depth here. I will revisit the exhibition, meditate on the pictures and the text of the sonnet, in silence when the gallery is emptier. This is what both poem and paintings require: silence.

Both Alison and Don are drawn to a spiritual vision (not religious - as Don at least, I know has said of himself- I don't know of Alison's stance on this though one of her paintings hangs in Edinburgh's Old St Pauls' church in a side chapel and I often stand in front of it to meditate.)

Don and Alison have covered similar territory before such as a response to the painting of 'St Francis in Meditation' by Zurbaran which expresses metaphysical anguish in the face of mortality.
Don's rsponse to Zurbaron is in his latest collection 'Rain' and is the poem called'Phantom'(also i.m. Michael Donaghy) in which the third section is after Alison Watt's 'Breath'.

In this present collaboration 'Hiding in Full View' it is less overtly spiritual, more about existential identity maybe, what can be revealed and what must remain hidden. It is a very evocative title for what both painter and poet do, the power of the suggested, the oblique, what cannot be said, only apprehended.

The exhibition continues until January 2012