It is not uncommon for William Scott’s minimalistic style to be attributed to his strict Presbyterian upbringing. Although this undoubtedly had considerable influence on his work, he was more consciously driven by his personal inclination to still lifes. He was, in his own words, ‘overwhelmed by the fact that the subject had hardly changed for 1000 years, and yet each generation in turn expressed its own period and feelings and time within this terribly limited narrow range of the still life ' (Scott, quoted in Norbert Lynton, William Scott, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004, p.61). For several decades Scott offered a guiding approach to the difficulties of accommodating both figuration and abstraction which dominated painting in the 1950s and 1960s, and continued to champion this reductionist approach throughout the last two decades of his life.
Scott’s art centres on subtlety of tone, texture and colour. His experience of painting in mainly black and white (and a very limited range of other colours) in the early 50s encouraged him to explore the richnesses and ambiguities of tone and texture. At the stage at which the present work was produced, the final period of his working life, the many decades he had spent investigating still life subjects enabled him to discuss objects in their most succinct state. Although seemingly simplistic, the intensely reduced forms of this composition are in fact the rich produce of a life’s work, the ‘purity is revealed as refined sensuality, austerity as an acute form of luxury’ (ibid, p.317). White shapes float among a white background as Scott dispenses with the perspective of his earlier still lifes so the table is no longer discernible and the iconic black pan, mug and bowls are silhouetted against a drastically reduced palette.
The space and and distance between shapes and their interrelation is of great significance in Scott’s paintings. In the present work, the handle of the pan touching the edge of the composition places the object within the delineated space. By placing it in the same linear plane as the other amorphous shapes that occupy the composition Scott demarcates the edges of the painting and positions everything within an envelope of space. The objects are therefore complementary and help to position each other, giving the simple composition structure. As Scott stated:
'The forms I use are the forms I see about me and the forms I have dreamt about since I was a child. I was brought up in a grey world, an austere world…The objects I painted were the symbols of the life I knew best and the pictures which looked most like mine were painted on walls a thousand years ago…some of my paintings are saucepans and other kitchen utensils on a bare kitchen table, but that does not mean that I’m particularly attracted to frying pans and saucepans. In fact, I think that these things are completely uninteresting. That’s why I paint them, there is no meaning to them at all, but they are the means to making a picture' (ibid, p.70).
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