Editor’s note: Airstream will host a fine art invitational exhibit of landscape art, May 31-June 5, at its headquarters in Jackson Center. This is one in a series of stories that will profile the artists whose work will be shown.
SIDNEY — What is the difference between worth and value?
That’s the question artist Michael Scott, of Lamy, New Mexico, tackles in his paintings. While it’s a profound question and Scott’s searches for answers have been seriously intellectual and spiritual, his artwork bespeaks a marvelous sense of humor.
Portraits of rescue dogs feature the animals in tiaras, with expensive cigars and on exclusive golf courses. The series was exhibited in a major New York City art gallery to raise money for Angels on a Leash during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. “If you place a rescue dog in a painting, can it compete with a Westminster pedigree?” Scott asked.
Huckster Buffalo “Bulb” — who is an obvious parody of real-life showman Buffalo Bill Cody but looks surprisingly like the artist — palms “prize” tulips off on a clueless public in another series of paintings. They reference a 17th-century economic boom and bust time in Holland, when an actual tulip cost more than master artist’s painting of a tulip. Scott’s paintings were made just as the housing bubble in the U.S. was about to burst.
Painted chickens must figure out how to get out of jail in a third series that explores how to unlock creativity.
“I’m a conceptual artist,” Scott said recently by phone. “I take concepts and develop concepts and have fun doing it. The stories I wanted to address were a little heady. You can say something serious. People perceive it as so ridiculous, you can slip it in the back door.”
The paintings come from a reality that Scott lives. He and his friends all own rescue dogs. He used to raise chickens and peacocks. Buffalo Bulb looks like Scott because, “I’m a cheap model,” he laughed.
Scott loves to laugh — especially at himself.
A southern Ohio resident at one time, he was already nationally recognized when he submitted a painting of a rooster to the Ohio State Fair. The art barn was next to the poultry barn on the fairgrounds. He had wanted his painted chicken to look over at the real ones, but that didn’t happen.
“I got rejected,” he laughed. “I love that about life.” Such irony and wit fill his paintings.
“His work has puns and rifts on history, art history, ideas concerning value in art, whether that is monetary, social, aesthetic or moral. He plays with the interchange of all of these systems, which makes his work really fun,” said Amy Scott, (no relation to Michael), chief curator of the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. The Autry as well as the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Southern Ohio Museum of Art in Portsmouth, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas; the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, have Scotts in their permanent collections.
“There is a complicated and complex level of symbolism in his work. That’s what makes it fun. You have to decipher it,” Amy said.
Complexity attracts Scott to the Dutch masters and it’s anything by Jan Vermeer that he would own if he could have his pick.
“He was a storyteller. His stoies are not necessarily easily deciphered. When you experience a work of art that’s really great, it’s magic in front of you. That’s what you’re after. (Great artworks) don’t document like photographs. It’s closer to alchemy. The materials transform into other properties. Things have multiple meanings. That’s the world I love to play in. It’s like a treasure hunt,” Scott said.
Scott suffered from a heart problem some years ago and was told that without treatment, he’d have two years to live. He got the treatment, but the experience changed him.
“You have to be OK with dying going into that surgery. Then, if you live through it, you have this whole other attitude of grace and appreciation,” he said. “You look at the absurdity of life and enjoy it because it’s short.”
What to do with the new life the surgery gave him? Buy an Airstream and travel the national parks.
Scott’s current project is landscapes: the national parks of the West. Along with the humorous dog, tulip and chicken series on his website, www.michaelscott.net, are photos of unfinished landscapes he’s been working on for the last three years.
“It’ll be a five-year project,” he said. “But I never stopped painting landscapes. They’ve been backdrops.” Now, they’re in the forefront.
“This is a little important,” he added. “How do you talk about this place that’s bigger than you are? Most landscapes can be quite static. They don’t convey the energy that places provide. That’s the challenge. Each place has its own unique dialogue. It’s like a dance. Your response to the place is a moving target. You’re one part of the equation. The place is the other part of the equation. You’re moving in and out of it. That’s the energy.”
He makes 8-inch by 10-inch field paintings that capture the experience of being there. Those paintings inform his memory as he works in his studio, a place he built to accommodate several large paintings at once. And the national park paintings will be artworks of enormous scale, as much as 12 feet.
Scott is negotiating with museum curators and corporations for project support and exhibit contracts. But he’s not doing the park series for them.
“I don’t care if someone buys a painting or not. That’s not why I make it. Right now, I’m making it because of these places. They’re magical places. There’s a life force there that, if you are astute, paying attention and participating, connects with your own life force and your own humble insignificance,” he said. “When I’m working on (the paintings), they’re so enveloping, I’m in them.”
He has many landscapes that are nationally competitive, but for the upcoming Jackson Center show, he’s chosen something else.
“I have painting I did one morning on the Fourth of July of my Airstream. I love the whole notion. It’s so American. It’s so cool to celebrate painters investigating the landscape,” he said.
When he’s not painting, he enjoys walking, hiking, his two dogs and cooking. But, “my life is my work and my work is my life. I’m really fortunate as an artist to do what I want to do. I enjoy dancing through life,” Scott said. “It’s the best possible life. Don’t take it for granted.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.