On The Edge
Pat Douthwaite (1934 – 2002)
The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh EH3 6HZ
Thursday 4th February – Saturday 27th February 2021
One of Scotland’s most original and challenging painters, Pat Douthwaite’s work is not easily defined and she continues to intrigue and divide. Her individualism, evidenced in The Scottish Gallery’s latest exhibition, speaks loudly and boldly.
Douthwaite’s work is naïve yet intellectually loaded, personal while still resonating with cultural references. It was not made for others but came from the deep-seated need of the creative to make, to express. Each work stands alone, beautifully designed, enigmatic to a fault, undatable and present. The extraordinary range of her subject matter, from myth to real-life crime, from fashion to fantasy, animal to erotic is always surprising and is unified by her own highly personal aesthetic which challenges the audience to love or hate. She has always defied any attempt at taxonomy from those who have tried to make sense of her work.
During a fraught and difficult lifetime, Douthwaite’s oeuvre of idiosyncratic paintings and drawings are powerful and witty. She regarded herself as being on the fringes of the art world and markedly distanced herself from the establishment with her emotional intensity and uncompromising vision.
Despite the lack of a permanent base and studio and a general mistrust of the art institution, she formed a close and trusting relationship with The Scottish Gallery and began exhibiting with them from 1991.
Douthwaite was born in Paisley into a conservative, middle-class family, growing up with the privations of Scotland at the time; from a very young age, she was aware of feeling different and found her freedom and vocation in dance and art classes. Throughout her life, she had an insatiable appetite for new visual experiences and immersed herself in esoterica, animals, ancient religions, folklore and the intellectual life of a new place. She was a great traveller, absorbing imagery and devouring cultures as far afield as Peru, Mexico, Poland and India. Her wanderlust is a tribute to her intellectual curiosity but was at the same time symptomatic of her restlessness. In the last ten years of her life, she seemed constantly on the move even though, by then, her world was restricted to the Borders, her homes always temporary and her life lived in anxiety.
Her mastery of technique shines in all her works, whether oil paint, watercolour or drawing. She used sketchbooks when travelling, working chiefly in pastel and, while in the studio, she drew constantly on anything to hand, when short of good paper.
Douthwaite’s work at its best emanates the essence of raw femininity with all that implies vulnerability, unacceptable drives and emotional demands. On Douthwaite’s stage, the female appears in many guises, as victim and predator, and she understands better than most that an impressive outsize persona can hide a shrinking core of anxious, insecure humanity.
Her individual work, such as The Fete, remains as cogent and relevant today as when it was made in the mid-sixties. Douthwaite’s recollection of a conversation observed, no doubt, at a Suffolk village fete shows privilege and violence ingrained in country society, unchanged for centuries. Her emotional honesty and unflinching eye often present an uncomfortable experience for the viewer as she exposes her subjects, like specimens in a jar, latterly often eschewing any setting or background.
Douthwaite’s unflinching commitment to her vocation, her unique style and her ability to interpret the visual world through the prism of her imagination make her contribution outstanding.
Sometimes life-enhancing, sometimes dark, her work is marked out by its passion and there is no doubt that she is recognised as one of the great individual voices in post-War British art.
The Scottish Gallery holds the Pat Douthwaite archive, having purchased the contents of her studio, and is gifting a large part of her correspondence to the nation to ensure these letters are preserved.