Ian Scott’s ‘Girlie’ paintings of the late 1960s are rife with references to the works of other artists. They were produced at a time when the histories of New Zealand painting were being written and the identification of an authentic local tradition — one rooted in the landscape, the harsh New Zealand light and its clearly delineated forms — was paramount. Scott plays on this history, responding to his predecessors with wit and irony.
The strange hills in Leapaway girl at once recall Colin McCahon’s cubist letterforms of the 1950s and the formal curves of Gordon Walters’ koru paintings. The kauri trees and waterfalls in the painting might also be a nod to McCahon, who had been Scott’s teacher at Elam School of Fine Arts. The wispy clouds in Leapaway girl are similar to those that inhabit Rita Angus’s skies, a similarity most pronounced in Angus’s surrealist magnum opus, AD 1968, 1968 (Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki). Not that the references are all local: elsewhere in the series Scott drew on images of contemporary American abstraction, and even here the bold colours of the leaping frock suggest a colourfield painting gone airborne. More obvious touchstones for the series are American pop artists Mel Ramos, in his paintings of pin-ups, and Tom Wesselmann in his ‘Great American nude’ series.
Perhaps the neatest connection to be drawn, though, is between works like Leapaway girl and the paintings of Don Binney. Binney enjoyed phenomenal success during the 1960s, when his iconic images of native birds hovering over crisp, clear New Zealand landscapes seemed to represent the apotheosis of a regional realist tradition. As Robert Leonard nicely puts it, ‘Replacing Binney’s birds with dolly-birds lifted from advertising, fashion mags and men’s mags, Scott created lolly-coloured Pop Art Binneys, Playboy Binneys.’1
The source for the jumping and lounging women in Leapaway girl was Vogue rather than Playboy. While some contemporary viewers saw Scott simply as a purveyor of tawdry glamour, one critic detected an artist wracked with guilt, suggesting that the ‘Girlie’ paintings demonstrated ‘enormous sympathy for women trapped in a world which is largely male fantasies made tangible’.2
This essay originally appeared in Art at Te Papa (Te Papa Press, 2009).
1. Robert Leonard, ‘Ian Scott, Jump over girl 1969’, in Victoria’s art: A university collection, Adam Art Gallery Te Pataka Toi, for Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, 2005, p. 50.2. Hamish Keith, ‘Goddesses stir male guilt’, Auckland Star, 14 November 1970, p. 16.