The golden touch of artist Patrick Scott

Thu, Feb 20, 2014, 19:31

Perhaps not too many of those who pass through Dublin’s central bus station, Busáras, would be aware that the eye-catching mosaics that adorn that building are the work of one of Ireland’s finest artists. The influence of Patrick Scott, who has died at the age of 93, permeates the many cultural layers of Irish life – architecture, tapestry, print-making and design work including for the stage – but in the midst of these incarnations his iconic style as an artist is best represented in what his fellow artist Brian O’Doherty called “the most consistently excellent body of work of any Irish artist”.

Scott was a father figure in Irish art – a pioneer of the modernism that broke the old moulds of provincialism when the White Stag Group was formed in the 1940s. He was an artist unafraid to forge connections between art and design, and in that his example has been an enabling one for many who came after him.

A distinguishing characteristic of his art, as well as one of its aesthetic pleasures, is its spareness and economy, how strikingly concise his images are, but there is also the luminosity of the golden moments in his paintings. The sheer beauty of the divine fire in his solar paintings, and the radiant sunbursts of gold in his later canonical work can instil in the viewer a profound sense of wonder, as can the transcendent Zen-like stillness at the heart of these images. He may once have referred to himself as “ a kind of primitive”, but his work embodies a real sophistication of sensibility and imaginative power.

His current retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Arts and VISUAL in Carlow – which opened just after his death, a sad coincidence of timing – will consolidate and enlarge his reputation and shows an artist whose early promise has been more than ripely fulfilled. Scott’s identity as an artist will always be associated with his golden touch, that recurring motif, but like the poet Patrick Kavanagh he was aware that to get to know one small field was the task of a lifetime.