"Like the texts that she quotes, Scott's work refuses to be enclosed by categories. The terms painting, writing, politics, poetry, text, are relevant, but inoperative as a means of description or classification. Her work is all of these; it also is none of these."
- Sigrid Dahle, curator
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- This work is made up of layers of text written in acrylic paint.
- Should we read the painting?
- How do we extract meaning if we are unable to read the text or if the text does not make sense?
- Is meaning something that is fixed and tangible or are there many variables that can affect how something is read or understood?
I formulated the entire text…because of something she [Gertrude Stein] wrote in her text How to Write. In that work she said something to this effect: in the eighteenth century meaning was contained within phrases, in the nineteenth within sentences, in the twentieth within paragraphs. So, I took her at her word and composed a re-meaningful-text from one of her most engaging works. And, if she was apt in her assessment of ‘where meaning resides,’ well then my painting is ‘full’ of her mentioning of meaning. I ‘re-writ’ her, so to say.
- Instead of a paint brush Scott used a syringe to cover the surface.
- Instead of canvas she painted on Plexiglas.
- Instead of images she used text.
- She composed the text in the painting from the first and last words of every paragraph from Gertrude Stein’s novel, The Making of Americans. When painted, the text covered the plexi surface about one and a half times. Using the same string of words, Scott painstakingly reproduced the words in acrylic paint, line by line and layer upon layer. With each new layer, Scott would change colours so that she could see where she was. She did this until “the whole dang thing became homogenous.” The title, Once Tree It Away It Complete also quotes the same text and is composed of the first and last words from the first three paragraphs of the book.
- At a distance this work appears to be a typical abstract painting, only concerned with the formal elements of art such as line, colour and texture. However, this first impression cleverly disguises the painting’s layered and complex creation. The seemingly nonsensical title also hides the creative approach the artist used to create meaning.
- This work asserts that the way we view art or create art is impacted by our identity. Our gender, race, age, beliefs and values influence our perception when dealing with art.
- As a metaphor for women's work, Scott's laborious and repetitive process insists on a female visual language. Instead of adopting a set of conventions set up by the largely male tradition of painting, Scott created a system of expression.
- Scott usually links her works with feminist literature and theory. According to Sigrid Dahle, "Her paintings are not /re/presentations of randomly chosen, appropriated material. Rather, they mark out her reading practice, the process of her interaction with art history/writing/painting/theory. They contain the trace of her experience even as she traces the words and images onto the canvas."
- By obscuring the text, Scott appears to be searching for meaning that is flexible and organic rather than imposing some literal meaning for the viewer to receive. According to Scott, "One can 'read' the work if you really stare and your vision is good and your eyes are steady. The text is more important for me...because I love her [Stein's] writing and need her writing. It may be less important to a viewer who may want to focus on a painting 'field' or whatnot. The viewer may and shall travel where and whither they will."
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This work suggests that the way we view or create art is affected by our identity. Does our gender, race, age and beliefs influence our perceptions of art? How?
Learn about Gertrude Stein.
Mary Scott was born in Calgary and has lived in that city for most of her life.
She received a B.F.A. with distinction from the University of Calgary in 1978 and an M.F.A. from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1980.
About her Career
Scott currently teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. She has served as the assistant head of visual arts at the Banff Centre School of Fine Arts and helped establish Calgary's Stride Gallery in 1985. She has exhibited widely since 1979 and was included in the Canadian Biennial of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada. Scott is a well-known artist who engages theory, feminist literature and psychoanalysis to critically examine the history of language, art and representation. Her works are deeply layered both physically and in metaphor, often incorporating historically female practices such as crochet and embroidery.
Once Tree It Away It Complete, 1978-79
acrylic on Plexiglas on plywood
61.0 x 93.5 x 0.6 cm
Collection of Glenbow Museum; Purchased, 1980