All in a Quiver
Ian Scott's Sexy Sprayed Stripes


Quiver was painted by Ian Scott in May 1974. It's part of a series of around 50 works called the Sprayed Stripe paintings. Quiver has six stripes (applied using commercial spray cans) set on two pale-coloured rectangles, floating on a white ground, bounded by a narrow aluminium frame.

You might say: 'Well, it's just a few stripes on a slab of white-a child could do just as well'. That's one response; a reaction to the reductiveness of the painting, its apparent banality. There have been other responses. Apparently, a number of women have declared to the artist: 'That's a sexy painting!'(1) I want to reconcile these antithetical attitudes or attributes. The Sprayed Stripes are about both these things-about banality and sex. And more: light, growth, sensuality and suburbia, fecundity and formalism.

IAN SCOTT Quiver 1974
PVA on canvas, 2185 x 1143 mm.
(Collection of the Auckland Art Gallery Te Toi o Yamati)

'Quiver' is a good title. While many abstract artists give their paintings, frankly, swankacious titles, this title is simple and direct, and rich with interpretive possibilities. 'Quiver' is my starting point.

Primary meanings: 'A case for holding arrows (sometimes also the bow).'(2) On a simple level, the encased stripes could be seen to approximate, schematically, a quiver of arrows. Further: 'To shake, tremble, or vibrate, with a slight but rapid agitation. (Said of persons, especially under the influence of some emotion, of things, lights, etc.)'.(3) Those fuzzy bars of intense colour might evoke vibrations of light.

Some background information on Scott himself might be useful here. He grew up in the Sunnyvale/Henderson area after arriving in New Zealand in 1952 at the age of eight. In 1971 he moved to Nelson to take up a teaching position, but in 1973 returned to West Auckland and in October of that year began the Sprayed Stripe series. In 1974 when he painted Quiver he was relatively young (29 years old) and he responded to, and celebrated, his immediate environment. It's an abstract painting, but it conjures up a scene in the mind: early 1970s - West Auckland - the fringes of the city - weatherboard houses - vineyards - orchards - the glare of the sun - the heat of summer.

The germination of Scott's Sprayed Stripes can be found in works from 1970 (the year before he shifted from Henderson to Nelson). Consider the work entitled Teller - a confluence of banality and sensuality. A West Auckland context is indicated not just by the apples, but also by the apple-shaped landscape with its (perhaps rather suggestive) Kauri tree. Along with the nude this is an element that derives from earlier works from the Girlie series, such as Leapaway Girl (1969). Rubbery young ladies cavort and frolic, and launch themselves in improbable feats of athleticism over equally improbable landscapes. These landscapes, despite their schematic rendering (which makes them look rather like golf courses), emblematise the West Auckland environment-bush and cleared land, Kauri trees and waterfalls, sand and surf. The nudes are reminiscent of those that appear in American Pop Art; they're not just an indication of the conduct of 'Westie' sheilas. Display and consumption. Sex commodified - made banal.

In Teller the girl seems to advance towards the viewer, out of a brightly coloured rectangular frame within the painting (and seemingly out of the picture frame itself). The frames or boxes within Teller and other paintings from 1970 such as Agronomist, might be seen as a form of packaging - like the boxes in which apples are sold. They could also be seen as the seeds of future abstract paintings. In the Sprayed Stripes all visible traces of that fructiferous West Auckland environment have dissipated. Yet the atmosphere lingers, and the colours are equally evocative, heightened to a pitch that is almost over-ripe.

IAN SCOTT Agronomist 1970
Oil on canvas, 2134 x 1730 mm.

The titles of paintings in the Sprayed Stripe series indicate the extent to which Scott invites this kind of reading: Pale Light; West of Auckland; Blooming White; Auckland Morning. Quiver is even more suggestive, connoting that heightened state of emotion or excitement associated with love-making. There are numerous literary uses of the word 'quiver' in this sense. Cupid's quiver of arrows is an obvious reference point.(4) Quivering virgins also crop up frequently. Ovid's Metamorphoses refers to: 'Diana, with a sprightly train of quiver'd virgins.'(5) In Thomas Middleton's play, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1630), Maudline declares to the appropriately named Sir Walter Whorehound:
. . . you have a presence, sweet Sir Walter,
Able to daunt a maid brought up in the city:
A brave court-spirit makes our virgins quiver
And kiss with trembling thighs . . . (6)
We can also take a masculine perspective of Scott's Quiver. It can be observed that the stripes are tensed by the edges of the pale rectangles within which they are contained. They have a certain tautness and virility. It is apparently possible for one to have one's quiver full. In Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers the rector of Puddingdale is Mr Quiverful. It should come as no surprise that he has 14 children.

In the late 1960s Scott's paintings were, almost palpably, about sex. Consider Lawn Lovers of 1969, for instance. Quiver is less explicit but it retains something of the same feeling. It has a salubrious atmosphere (light, fruit, sex) but it has too its banal component (commodification and suburbia). Quiver might not seem obviously suburban. But consider the origins of the Sprayed Stripes: Scott recalls that the idea came to him when he saw his brother using cans of spray paint to repaint his car (which, of course, is a very 'Westie' thing in itself).(7) He pinched some of these cans and began experimenting, to see what effects could be achieved with them. Eventually he arrived at a method, which determined the composition of the Sprayed Stripes: The canvas was tacked onto a sloping piece of board-white acrylic paint rolled on to form the ground. The floating rectangular shape was sprayed on lightly using a stencil, the rest of the canvas being masked off. Pieces of wood were then used to form channels down which the stripes were to be created. To make each stripe Scott would take up a can of appropriate hue and spray in a downwards movement-walking purposefully backwards-the can held out steady, yet active, in front of him-the paint thus ejaculated into that narrow aperture.

Those stripes (which look so simple to the idle spectator) required a considerable degree of precision. The width of the stripe depended on the height at which the spray can was held-that had to be assessed initially, and then maintained consistently for each stripe. It required of the artist a quiverly act, meaning one that is active, nimble, rapid, smart. That physical process must be seen as part of the meaning of the work. It is not expressive and existential in the manner of Jackson Pollock's 'action painting'-in fact Scott's method involved the partially mechanical operation, and impersonal touch, of the spray can. However, the Sprayed Stripes are imbued with a certain kind of feeling-a quiver of emotion, of sensuality and fecundity-which, oddly, derives from the banal suburban environment in which the works were produced. It is more than a reference - it is implicated in the very making of the paintings. In using commercial spray paint Scott has said that he wanted to capture the feeling of a sophisticated house-painter.(8) He had the idea of making art out of commonplace materials that could be purchased at a hardware store, using a method that was direct (not traditional 'arty' materials or techniques).(9)

IAN SCOTT Lattice no 152 1987
Acrylic on Canvas, 1780 x 1780 mm.

Scott had previously tried to capture something similar in Colour Card Family (1966). This was essentially a direct copy of a commercial paint advertisement. It drew attention to the banal painted surface of the suburban house. The advertisement was, in itself, a banal painted image. Scott converted it into a painting (an art image) to be hung on a banal painted surface (the wall of an art gallery).

More recently Paint and Water (1992) is, Scott says, 'about what can be bought at a home decorating centre on a Saturday morning: wallpaper, paint, brushes, instruction manuals, tacky frames and banal paintings'.(10)

Perhaps the most bald assertion of the connection between painting a house and painting a canvas is to be found in the work simply called House Painter, again from 1992. It seems to articulate the creation of something out of nothing - 'nothing', in this sense, being that which is considered worthless, which is overlooked or looked down upon, such as the prosaic items of suburbia. 'High' art and 'non-art' mingle. In the Sprayed Stripes the spray can effects the shift from suburbia to sexiness. As one radio reviewer observed:
With this most ordinary implement and a limited colour range . . . red, green, blue, black . . . you know . . .the ones you use to revamp the old kitchen chairs or the kids' bikes. . .Scott has used these to produce works of art of startling beauty and sensitivity.(11)

It must be remembered that when Scott was growing up in West Auckland the weatherboard houses were relatively new, the paint still fresh and tacky (in more than one sense). He sought to capture the intense colours and orderly appearance of the suburban environment.

IAN SCOTT House Painter 1992
Acrylic on canvas, 1280 x 1830 mm.

Perhaps the viewer may perceive that Scott's Sprayed Stripes have more in common with American Post-painterly abstraction than with his own earlier figure paintings. Certainly he was influenced by artists such as Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Jules Olitski. Their paintings have generally been regarded as primarily visual objects-pure abstraction as endorsed by the formalist critic Clement Greenberg. John Elderfield has made the following observation of Morris Louis's Stripe paintings: 'Far from harmonising the individual stripes by colour, Louis usually vibrates them, creating an illusion of painterliness in their optical flicker.'(12) A similar effect is evident in Scott's Sprayed Stripes. However, Scott is interested in more than 'painterliness'. He juxtaposes narrow threads of colour to evoke the vibrations of natural light. Common coloured pigments become quivering sunlight.

Consider also the composition of Quiver. The stripes are not aligned with the edges or corners of the surface; they have a free, floating appearance. Other paintings in the series such as Auckland Morning (June, 1974) demonstrate this to a greater extent than Quiver. Compare this with a painting by the American Morris Louis, such as Burning Stain (1961). The American abstractionists tended to determine the edges of the work after painting it. They cut the canvas to size so as to maximise the tension between surface and edge, and minimise any sense of figure on ground (or figuration). Scott also adopted this procedure (known as 'cropping') but, in the Sprayed Stripes, he did so less 'actively'. He did not, as Greenberg would say, 'galvanise' the composition. His stripes are not obviously locked or pinned to the white ground.

It seems clear that Scott was exploring something beyond the intricate and insular formal problems that concerned the Greenbergian American painters. Scott's own account of the Sprayed Stripes gives a clear indication of this: 'There is a necessity in this country', he states, 'for the development of a free, new abstract painting, independent of past European styles and ideas, and unhindered by recent American formal concerns.'(13)

Scott almost seems to be playing about with those formal concerns, undermining their purity and severity, just as he had done (albeit more directly) in his Homage to Morris Louis five years before. The stripes are re-presented in Quiver. They become a more subtle metaphor for sexiness and suburbia. If the stripes stand for sex, then they also connote growth or generation. They take on an embryonic appearance. The composition is spacious, not 'closed'. There is a sense of expansion, of opening out. Quiver can be seen as a painting about fecundity. I have talked of light (light stimulating growth) and of sex (a celebration of sensuality) and of orchards and fruit. The Sprayed Stripes were certainly fruitful. They produced 'quiverfuls of offspring'(14) -the extensive Lattice family.

IAN SCOTT Model Series no 12 (Girl with Malevich) 2001
Acrylic on canvas, 1730 x 1243 mm.

The Lattices can also be seen to retain the suburban connotations of the Sprayed Stripes. They have been seen to evoke such everyday objects as trellis fences and deckchairs. In Scott's most recent paintings (Girl with Malevich, February 2001, for example) they become grates in the brick walls of houses. Girl with Malevich draws together many of the ideas and dualities I have discussed: sensuality and banality, reductive 'high' modernist aesthetics and blank suburban walls. A scantily-clad woman, who appears to have stepped out of a Playboy-type magazine, poses before Malevich's Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying of 1915, hung on a sunlit, white-painted brick wall. With its angled geometric forms floating on a white ground, the Malevich throws further light on the Sprayed Stripes. For Malevich, that expanse of whiteness signified infinity or 'nothingness' - beyond sight, beyond representation. The forms that he launched into that void were, according to Malevich, 'pure feeling'(15) - again, beyond conventional representation. Scott's Sprayed Stripes could also be seen to represent 'feeling'-they're emblems of emotion-and for him that feeling is associated with light, love, sex and suburbia.

1. Ian Scott, conversation with the author, 22 March 2001.
2. The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, Vol. XIII, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1989.
3. ibid.
4. See, for example, William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, I, i, 274 (' if Cupid have not spent all his quiver in Venice, thou wilt quake for this shortly').
5. Quoted in The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition, Vol. XIII, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1989.
6. Thomas Middleton, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, I, i, 118.
7. Ian Scott, op. cit.
8. Ian Scott, op. cit.
9. The artist has described this as an 'almost shop-fabricated method'. (Scott in 'Nineteen Painters: Their Favourite Works',
Islands 10, Summer 1974, p. 376.)
10. Ian Scott, quoted in Warwick Brown, Ian Scott, Marsden Press, Auckland 1998, p. 134.
11. Photocopied text of radio review of an exhibition at the Peter Mcleavey Gallery broadcast on 2YC's The Arts in Wellington.
12. John Elderfield, Morris Louis, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1986, p. 74.
13. Ian Scott, in 'Nineteen Painters: Their Favourite Works', op. cit., p. 378.
14. The expression is that of the writer Bumstead quoted in The Oxford English Dictionary, op. cit.
15. See Kasimir Malevich, 'The Non-Objective World', in Herschel B. Chipp (ed), Theories of Modern Art, University of California Press, Berkeley 1968, pp. 341-346.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 101 Summer 2001-2