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A Contemporary Painter’s Modernist Spin on the Old Masters

Artsy Editorial
Jul 31, 2015 9:36PM

Scott Fraser’s carefully crafted still lifes, full of rich detail, are created with the same techniques used by oil painters for centuries. However, he also imbues them with conceptual underpinnings and art-historical allusions more commonly found in the 20th and 21st centuries, bringing the art form into the present. A new exhibition of recent work by Fraser, along with other artworks and preparatory drawings, shows his working process and development. Titled “Scott Fraser: Lemon Fall,” the exhibition pays homage to the history of still life painting and and pushes it forward into the contemporary.

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“There are two camps, and I have a foot in each of them,” Fraser has said. “One represents the desire to revive the traditional painting of the old masters and embrace beauty and craft, while dismissing everything post-1913 Armory show. The other camp is modernism and all its forward-moving, don’t-look-back trappings. This is the more forceful of the two.” Yet many of his paintings recall pre-modern imagery, such as banquet images by the Dutch painter Pieter Claesz after the still lifes of Spanish master Juan Sánchez Cotán

Pre-Study 7
Quidley & Company
Pre-Study 5
Quidley & Company

The show’s main focus, in fact, mimics Cotán, using hanging fruit in a theatrical window setting. In Lemon Fall, 11 lemons are arranged on a slim support in a dark window. Fraser cites Cotán’s Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (ca. 1602)—which some argue to be religious allegory—as a major influence. More lemons rest on the sill below. Half-peeled, the rinds of the lemons hang in a gracefully parabolic catenary arc, which is the curve that occurs when a string or a chain is supported only at each end and allowed to dangle freely.


Along with the painting, Fraser made dozens of preparatory drawings and paintings of the image, including Pre-Study 8 and Pre-Study 4. In some, such as Pre-Study 7 and Pre-Study 5, he homed in on particular elements of the composition, such as the placement of the fruit, the color palette, and other details. The stunning photorealism of the end image is only possible through such meticulous planning. 

A Lesson in Paint
Quidley & Company

Other art-historical allusions abound in Fraser’s work, such as his use again of Cotán’s framing device in Duck Roast (2014), and hints of Alberto Giacometti and Jasper Johns in A Lesson in Paint—showing how the purely visual and conceptual, the old and contemporary, can coexist.

—Stephen Dillon


“Scott Fraser: Lemon Fall” is on view at Quidley & Company, Nantucket, Jul. 17 - Aug. 4, 2015.


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