Abstraction as Art; the Work of Bill Scott

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

“I love painting because in its immutable stillness it seems to exist outside time in a way no other art can.” -Siri Hustvedt, Mysteries of The Rectangle, 2005

This immutable stillness is something Bill Scott associates with his own work. As he sheepishly took the podium in LPAC this Thursday afternoon he began by confessing his nervousness and by reading that quote. The lecture which followed was a richly tactile experience; chronicling the expanse of his work from the Pennsylvania Academy to his current works in progress. One of the more resounding ways he described his work was that: “ you don’t know what it is but it feels like it.”

With the hope of being a figure painter in school, his life passed though many digressions and transgressions of abstraction and deconstruction. Heavily influenced by Joan Mitchell, an aggressive expressionist, Bill’s work was irrnversably changed by both her life and death. He remembered her almost magic ability to deduce the origins of his paintings, an anecdote which underlines the essence of his life’s work: that all abstraction is based on reality.

He confessed to the audience that late in his career he realized his need for glasses, yet after acquiring them he “saw every fiber of his shoelaces and every brick of the building three blocks away” and promptly returned them to his pocket. Justly, he calls himself a near-sighted realist.

At various points during the lecture he would get overwhelmed and stopped, saying “oh, I am trying to say too many things again.” This, I thought, was also very representative of his art. Each painting, he explained, labored through different stages of self doubt, a representation of his doubt in his ability, until its meaning was born and he was able to step back and appreciate this independent creation.

Although abstract, his work is very emotive. As I watched his life evolve though his art, it was obvious that at many times during his life, his paintings were his way of dealing with grief. Now, they have evolved away from this initial imagery, but the fount of the overlaying rectangles were tombstones and pits recalled form his parents’ funeral. Over time, depending on the desires of the artist, they became the house he wished for, or his ‘imaginary garden’

Although oil paintings dominate the List gallery, his etchings are spread over the first floor of McCabe. As a student, being able to see both versions of his images is a very powerful experience; one which I would recommend to anyone passing by either LPAC or the Library.

It takes a few minutes to take in the vastness of the planes on the canvas but after a wile it is easy to pick out the lines, strokes and color patches which particularly appeal to you.

See photographs from the show in one of the Gazette’s photo specials, featuring photography by Meghan Whalen and Tasha Lewis.

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