Key facts about the artist

Fount (2011)

Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London from 2006 to 2008
Made OBE in 2008
The Glasgow School of Art


Video: Interview - Alison Watt

Video: Art in Scotland TV - Alison Watt : Paintings 1986-2014

Video: Art in Scotland TV - Julie-Ann Delaney on GENERATION at Modern One

About Alison's work

Alison Watt became fascinated with making and looking at paintings from a young age, and today she is a champion for the importance and unique nature of the medium. She developed her art in the 1980s when, focusing on the human figure, she worked on self-portraits and studies of life models in the studio. Towards the end of the 1990s she became interested in painting folds of fabrics and draperies of the kind often used as props by life models. The absence of the human figure marked an important shift in her subject matter. But rather than abandoning the figure as subject in favour of abstraction, Watt’s new paintings evoked the human body in its absence.

Watt’s painting Sabine (2000) shows her meticulous attention to detail. It is informed by the fabric depicted in portraits of women by the nineteenth-century French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Watt has described Ingres’s paintings as a long-time source of fascination. She regularly cites historical painters as inspiration, although her works share many qualities with her contemporary peers.

Phantom (2007) is one of several spectacular and absorbing large-scale canvases that were painted during Watt’s residency at the National Gallery in London. It is partly inspired by the painting Saint Francis in Meditation (1635–9) by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán, which depicts a kneeling, open-mouthed figure whose face is almost completely obscured by shadow inside a hood. Watt’s fabric seems to suggest the ghostly absence and presence of a human form. The folds create a point of entry into an unseen negative space at the centre of the painting.

Fount (2011) is from a series of paintings that were partly inspired by the extraordinary self-portrait photographs of the American artist Francesca Woodman, who died in 1981 at the age of twenty-two. Watt’s fascination with Woodman’s work came from a broader investigation of the nature of self-portraiture. Made a few years after Phantom, this painting is less rooted in historical source material. It conveys an intimate, sensual and emotional response to a subject.


Alison Watt (born 1965 in Greenock) studied at The Glasgow School of Art (1983–8). Her solo shows include: Hiding in Full View, Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh (2011); Phantom, National Gallery, London (2008); Dark Light, Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh and Pier Arts Centre, Orkney (2007); Still, Memorial Chapel, Old Saint Paul’s Church, Edinburgh (2004); Shift, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2000); and Fold, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (1997). Watt participated in the 2010 exhibition Autoritratte at the Sala delle Reali Poste in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy, which brought together female self-portraits from the sixteenth century to today. She was Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London in 2006–8. In 2008 she was awarded an OBE. She lives and works in Edinburgh.


Further reading

Alison Watt and Don Paterson, Hiding in Full View, Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, 2011

Colin Wiggins and Don Paterson, Alison Watt: Phantom, The National Gallery Company, London, 2008

Graeme Murray et al., Alison Watt: Fold, New Paintings 1996–97, The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 1997