JTF (just the facts): A total of 8 large scale works, hung unframed against white walls in the three room gallery space. All of the works are UV-cured ink, gesso, Marine Epoxy, enamel, dye, avian netting, and canvas on dibond, made in 2019. Physical sizes range from 53×40 to 80×240 inches, and all of the works are unique. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: When digital photography arrived on the artistic scene (some two decades ago now), one of the assumptions we all had was that not only was photography itself going to be transformed, adjacent artistic mediums were also going to be significantly influenced. The ability to take a photographic image and print it on almost any substrate felt revolutionary, and both painting and sculpture seemed ripe for digital disruption.
And while digital printing on canvas did quickly infiltrate the artistic methods of some contemporary painters, and many have gone on to incorporate digital motifs and aesthetics into more painterly approaches, it has taken meaningfully longer for painters to fully internalize the use of digital imagery to the point that it is just another tool in the artistic toolbox. Hugh Scott-Douglas is one of the few painters of his generation that seems to have intuitively understood the power that photography could have when successfully merged into the context of painting. Over the past decade, he has smartly experimented with cyanotypes (in many guises, particularly on canvas), brought iterative reprinting and transfer from digital sources into his workflow, and used Photoshop to edit photographic imagery and patterning that later found its way into his paintings. While many painters seem to have felt threatened by digital photography, Scott-Douglas has embraced its particular facilities and deftly absorbed them into his own unique practice.
Scott-Douglas’ newest works are his most layered and tactile yet. Mottled areas of blue, brown, purple, white and black swirl and wander in expressive motions, seeming to break up into granular spots and dissolving crunches. Roughly printed arrays of directional chevrons and arrows march across sections of the works, both in straight lines and in dense bunches like flocks of birds, the inks messy and indistinct. And actual black netting is pulled over some of the works, creating an undulating grid form which is then encased in clear resin, with bubbles and folds that ripple across the surface. The result is works that have depth and thickness, the discrete process layers built up and overlapped, one pattern peeking through underneath another.
Scott-Douglas’ compositions feel vaguely oceanic, with a splash of catastrophe, like satellite maps that have deteriorated to the edge of abstraction. His process begins with screenshots from FleetMon, a logistics-industry software package that tracks sea transport. The software places ship icons on map backdrops, charting currents, wind directions, wave conditions, and nearby landmasses; Scott-Douglas screenshots images of thickly traveled shipping hubs and transit zones and then removes the ships, leaving behind the swirling underlayer. He then transmits these source images to a television set, rescans them (thereby incorporating another layer of color misregistration and distortion), and then ultimately prints the imagery onto canvas, once again separating the files into layers. From there, he adds the the physical netting and the thick bubbled resin and overpaints and transfers symbols onto the surface, leading to compositions that feel simultaneously physical and digital, the two conflicting aesthetics and textures forced into intermingled topological harmony.
In Scott-Douglas’ hands, photography is neither a sharpening agent, where fidelity of detail is important, nor a blurring/pixelization process, where reality is veiled and ghosted. Instead, he has embraced the cyclical nature of degradation that comes from paired iterations of photography and printing to experiment with the aesthetics of breakdown. Of course, silkscreeners have been playing in this imperfection sandbox for decades (some even using photographic imagery), but Scott-Douglas’ embrace of software manipulation, digital environments, and symbolic reuse feels like a step in a slightly different direction. He’s not playing clever games with juxtapositions, repetitions, and rebuses, but encouraging the digital to melt away and become something resolutely physical. In a sense, he’s bringing texture and handfeel back to digital imagery, re-adding physical sensation to screen-life.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $30000 and $130000, based on size. Scott-Douglas’ works have been intermittently available in the secondary markets in recent years, with prices ranging from roughly $8000 to $82000.