Scott of the aesthetic: 70 years of golden art
Painter, printmaker, architect, designer: Patrick Scott, who has died at the age of 93, made an inestimable contribution to Irish cultural life
Circle of life: Patrick Scott in his studio. Photograph: Kevin Dunne
Throughout the past 70 years or so Patrick Scott, who died today at the age of 93, wove his way through the intricacies of Irish cultural life with the fleet-footed lightness and grace of Fred Astaire. His contribution was enormous and his talent considerable, but he was mostly content to work away quietly, with no great fuss.
Highly regarded among his peers and by a wider audience, he had many exhibitions of his work as painter and printmaker, including regular solo shows at Taylor Galleries, as well as several substantial surveys. Still, Patrick Scott: Image Space Light , divided between the Irish Museum of Modern Art, in Dublin, and Visual, in Carlow, is the first retrospective to convey the sheer breadth of his activities across fine art, design and architecture, and is a fitting tribute to his life and work.
Scott is renowned for the elegant simplicity of form that sums up his aesthetic sense. It is more a principle than a style, and one he consistently applied whether designing a Christmas card or making a painting.
Dorothy Walker noted his “unerring, absolute taste”. As Brian Fallon eloquently put it when reviewing an exhibition of his paintings in 1977: “Patrick Scott has perfect taste, in a country where even imperfect taste is rare.” And Brian O’Doherty paid him the exceptional compliment of saying he had produced “the most consistently excellent body of work of any Irish artist”.
Born on a large coastal farm at Kilbrittain, Co Cork, in 1921, the youngest of four children, he was the family’s “golden boy”, as Sé Merry Doyle’s fine 2004 documentary about him is titled. As the economic war of the 1930s drove the farm towards bankruptcy, the family was rescued by his mother’s sister, Jane, whose affluent companion, Linda Parbury, bailed them out. That included paying for Scott’s schooling at St Columba’s College in Dublin. His early desire to be a painter was regarded as wildly impractical, and in time “Aunt” Linda wrote him a generous cheque for £1,000 and dispatched him to Dublin to study architecture.
During the war years he did exactly that, at University College Dublin, but he also became involved with the White Stag Group, part of an influx of outsiders who did much to enliven Dublin’s social and cultural life at the time. Largely composed of conscientious objectors who had opted for exile in Ireland, the White Stag artists championed a quirky variant of European modernism. While Scott’s early exhibited paintings are comparatively representational, one can discern in them motifs, especially the right-angled grid and the circle, that eventually came to dominate his work as a painter. He remains quite dismissive of his early efforts: “I was a kind of primitive, really, an Irish Grandma Moses.”
Scott lived as a gay man in Dublin at a time when the values of conservative Catholicism were in the ascendant, and the distinction between church and State was increasingly blurred. True, he moved in a relatively bohemian circle that included, crucially, Micheál Mac Líammóir and Hilton Edwards. Although both were gay, London-born Protestants, they managed to carve out a unique niche in Catholic Ireland and contrived to be the national gay couple, accepted and embraced by everyone.