One of Britain’s most intriguing contemporary artists, Rebecca Scott, is heading to home territory for a new exhibition of her work in Grasmere at the Heaton Cooper Studio archive gallery.

Scott, who has exhibited all over the world and recently featured in the prestigious British Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery, is a Cumbrian who divides her time between London and Kendal. While in the latter, she was co-founder (in a former Kendal Mint Cake factory) of the pioneering Cross Lane Projects, a gallery which aims to bring new and contemporary art to Cumbria and has been presenting a curated programme of  exhibitions by local, international and British artists with accompanying talks and events.

Scott’s own work is startling, with an immense sense of physicality in her painting, and the new show in Grasmere, Machinations, is being curated by Julian Cooper, Britain’s foremost living mountain painter and a member of the Heaton Cooper family dynasty of artists. He has been intrigued by this series of paintings since he first saw them a few years ago.

“They seem to stretch the definition of what’s natural by including images of internal combustion engines in juxtaposition with plants and flowers, making one realise that because an engine is the product of the human mind, it means that it’s also part of nature too,” says Cooper.

“My own view of the paintings might be surplus to Rebecca’s intention of them as statements about gender stereotypes, but the one doesn’t rule out the other. Of course the ideas behind these paintings wouldn’t be of interest if the paintings themselves couldn’t carry them and they weren’t so powerful, but there’s such physical delight shown in her handling of the paint, and such vividness of both colour and of imagery, that these paintings are very exciting to look at.”

It’s a mini retrospective show featuring paintings from 1994 to 2024, including early works from the 1990s which combine images of flowers and engines and more recent creations including paintings of natural plants and foliage which are disrupted by an overlaid scribble. The early paintings blend imagery of car engines with cut flower arrangements, associating the stereotypical ideology that engines represent masculinity and flowers represent femininity. The painted flowers are cultivated arrangements rather than natural presentations, representing society’s acceptance of the pursuit of the perfect female form rather than the natural, wilder side.

Scott, says Cooper, creates a luscious image and “the seductive handling of the paint allows the viewer to see both themes in the same beautiful way, symbolizing the juxtaposition of the contrived female and the powerful American muscle car but creating an equality between the two”.

Machinations of a Rose 1995 by Rebecca Scott. Image courtesy of Heaton Cooper Studio.

An eclectic body of work

Born in 1960 in Cumbria, Scott gained a BA in Fine Art (Painting) from Chelsea School of Art and an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, London. She has work in private and public collections nationally and internationally, and has exhibited in London, Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. In 2019, she was a finalist for Cumbria Life’s Visual Artist of the Year award (when the winner was Julian Cooper).

Working from photographs, calendars, catalogues, and magazines, Scott is drawn to aspects of private manifestations and public representations of female desire. Her work is representational and takes inspiration from Andy Warhol, Malcolm Morely, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Winifred Nicholson, and Georgia O’Keefe.

She says: “I tend to work in series, and retrospectively can see a biographical aspect to my oeuvre; the topics I chose to respond to have often been meaningful in a personal sense, playing out in reaction to the situations I have found myself in.”

Scott uses genres of paintings as a metaphor – “the language of choice is painting”-  previously working through areas as diverse as nudes, flowers, still life, and figurative genres. Her large extensive body of work diverts into knitted works which are an antithesis of painting and an acknowledgement of the feminist dialogue which is an important aspect to her thought process. 

Among her fascinating and eclectic back catalogue is The Tent of Human Rights, (2016), a small bell tent stenciled with the text of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. The text begins at the  apex of the tent and spirals down in the colours of the rainbow. Inside the tent is the Blanket of Human Rights and several cushions, knitted with the text from the various articles of the document.

Scott says: “The initial inspiration for this work was the Arab Spring of 2011 when I first discovered the Declaration for myself and was inspired and moved by the sentiments in the document.”

By Eileen Jones


The Grasmere exhibition runs from March 14 until May 31, 2024. Open daily 9-5. For more information, click here