Breathing In: Alison Watt Solo Exhibition at Levy Gorvy Dayan in New York

    When was the last time you contemplated the delicate fold of a napkin? Or the shadowy creases in your tablecloth? Alison Watt’s hyperrealistic paintings, currently on display at Levy Gorvy Dayan in New York, are contemplations of tender moments like these. Her large paintings, mostly in shades of white with other slightly muted colors, are an expressive yet subtle meditation on simple objects and their narratives. In a video made by the National Galleries of Scotland, Watt explained “I paint almost every day. It’s an emotional experience for me.” 

    In the video, she continued, “although in these paintings, the body is not explicitly represented in the cloth, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. For me, the paintings are about an absent presence.” Though Watt’s cloths hang on their own, to a ghostly extent, it’s easy to imagine what the objects would represent if details were added, and the humans who would inhabit the spaces. In her painting “Holland” (2021-22) a tablecloth seems to be floating in mid-air, though perfectly intact in its shape as if it were resting on a table, as in “Glanville” (2021-22), another variation of the same imagery. Watt’s shadows are stark, almost to the point of feeling exaggerated. 

    I was struck by the painting titled “Reversed Canvas” (2017), which is exactly what its title suggests, the back of a canvas: a depiction of staples on the linen cloth, the texture of a canvased wood. Seeing the back of a canvas as an image painted on a canvas is a disorienting sight. It exposes the viewer to the very essence that is creating a painting, as if she were opening the curtain on herself, like a magician revealing all her tricks before the trick itself. But Watt’s tricks pose more questions than answers and her “absent presences” will only make you want to look at her paintings more – to try and decipher their quiet, simple beauty.

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