‘I deal in anger, joy, rage and happiness’ – Pat Douthwaite (1934-2002)
Fractured emotions combined with theatrical imagination were the lifeblood behind the inimitable style of this unique artist. With a passion for dance since childhood, Pat Douthwaite then turned her creativity to painting – the Scottish Colourist J D Fergusson recognised her raw, innate talent and persuaded her not to attend art school. As a self-taught artist, this allowed her to develop her own individual, free-spirited, expressive style. Almost twenty years since her death, ‘On the Edge’ presents a diverse range of large scale oil paintings, charcoal and pastel drawings, prints and watercolours, spanning her career from 1959 to 1999. Her work can certainly be viewed as autobiographical, frequently portraying herself as the subject and astute observations of animals, people and places as a nomadic, worldwide traveller.
Douthwaite moved to Suffolk in 1958, living in a community of influential artists: the ‘Two Roberts’, (Colquhoun, McBride), William Crozier and Paul Hogarth, whom she soon married.
This sparse, abstract Suffolk Landscape evokes the bleak midwinter with a blanket of white snow and threatening black sky. Like a patchwork of geometric shapes, there is such tangible texture in the grid pattern of fields, hedges and bare trees.
Her mother had been a hat designer and the young Pat liked to dress up in veils and feathers, jewellery and makeup in showgirl fashion. The fantastical Woman with a Peacock in her Hair may at first seem humorously pantomimic, but the bared teeth, glinting eyes, scarlet lips and pair of sharp scissors, add a hidden, menacing scenario.
In a total contrast of genre, Yellow Nude (Woman one), is a cool, composed figure with deconstructed female anatomy and teasing glimpse of a black stocking. Perhaps an homage to Sonia Delaunay sixty years earlier in her seductive, rather androgynous, Yellow Nude, (1908).
In 1892, Edvard Munch described ‘a gust of melancholy, a vast infinite scream’ on a walk at sunset, the moment captured in his iconic self-portrait. Francis Bacon depicted his personal demons in distorted images of a wide-open, wailing mouth. Here too, Douthwaite’s 1970s series of women viewed in profile, all wild hair and dark eyes, Angry Dancer, Yellow Hair, and Goddess, are powerful, painful images of a silent scream of anguish, a hollow howl of despair: quietly emotive, enigmatic and haunting.
As a way of soul searching the sensitive, vulnerable side of her personality, she was able to express these feelings through art: ‘…painting myself over and over again… self-portraits in disguise with small facets of other people real or imagined juxtaposed among it all.’
The palette across most works here is a fairly consistent blend of yellow, ochre, mustard, tobacco brown with a splash of turquoise, but a charming portrait of Madeline, looking rather perplexed, has a pleasing background of sugar pink.
A delightfully humorous sketch, Woman in a Dress has the trademark profile with a gentle smile around the mouth, straggling curls and tiny button breasts. Mythical creatures, birds and animals also feature strongly, such as quirky caricatures of Mr. Henry Dooley, the artist’s beloved dog.
Painted in 1999 is a delicate watercolour of the Orkney Isles is pared down to simple, striated blocks to reflect the sandy shore, greyish sky and blue sea, which glows with a faint glimmering, shimmering misty light.
Toby Hogarth has described how his mother painted through the night, listening to loud music which fuelled emotion and strong creative energy – akin to Kerouac’s spontaneous, literary style, ‘with the raciness, freedom and humour of jazz.’ As this mini retrospective of Pat Douthwaite illustrates so well, from the vivaciously light-hearted to the vividly aggressive in mood, the focus is on heartfelt authenticity with imaginative, aesthetic vision.
A virtual 3D tour around the gallery is available on the website, and on Tuesday 23rd February at 5pm there be a 15-minute gallery tour of the exhibition with Christina Jansen, again via the Gallery’s website.
With grateful thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.