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Home FEATURES Artist Interviews Scott Anderson Interview

Scott Anderson Interview
Tuesday, 15 April 2008 06:05
"There is too much bad painting being made as it is, so if you don't feel like you NEED it then please don't bother." This Chicago based painter discusses his work and the state of painting.

For some reason or another, I am prone to like artists who make works on paper or sculptures. It's not important really, so I won't explain why.

Occasionally, I am fortunate enough to stumble across a painter who I really enjoy. It doesn't happen often but when it does, oh boy! Lamar Peterson, Garth Weiser, Anna Conway, TL Solien or Dana Schutz come to mind.

Welcome the newest addition to my elite list of cool painters, Scott Anderson. Last weekend I drove over to Kavi Gupta gallery to see his most recent exhibition, Misiisto, and was truly stunned. Grandiose.

Scott tells us a little about his exquisite paintings, talks about the Humanzee, hollers at Thomas Jefferson, and gives some good advice.

Scott Anderson - Bunko, 2006 - oil on canvas mounted to board - 72" x 60"

Tell us a bit about yourself Scott, so a comfortable and familiar read can ensue.

I was born to an architect and his wife in Urbana Illinois in 1973. My Dad was in the middle of school at the time. I was their first- born - first out of five. My family lived in western Illinois, until they moved us to suburban Kansas City (Kansas) in the mid eighties. I'm sure it was a potent cocktail of nature and nurture that helped germinate my interests and skills. My Father, like his mother before him, can draw like a dream, and my Mother has an uncanny ability to organize space densely and decoratively. They have always been very supportive of my chosen profession. Following my incubation in the suburbs, I went to undergrad at Kansas State and moved back to Urbana Illinois for my MFA at UIUC. My wife and I moved, by default to the middle-coast of Chicago in 2001, where we happily remain.

Your paintings are so elaborate in every way possible it seems. There is so much information in terms of imagery and color, use of paint, mark making and layers. How do you handle all of this? How did you develop your style?

Well, handling it is rarely a chore. I think that it comes from my commitment to the medium of painting and what I feel is a real need to make these things. For me, there is a serious interest in every stage of a work's life cycle. I like thinking about making a painting, I feel like I'm "playing" while I make it, and offering the final product to the world is very satisfying as well.

The way these paintings look has been evolving gradually over the past few years, but I would say the epiphany came my last year of graduate school. The pressure had been building, I guess over all the years of art school. Course work had improved my facilities, taught me some art history, and exposed me to contemporary art. I spent the first bit of grad school frustrated, and wasn't sure how to apply all of this or how to insert myself into the canon. It wasn't until I stopped worrying about defending/defining my work in post-structuralist terms (the lingua franca of the time), that I relaxed and was honest and really invested in what I was doing. It was weird. I felt like I was kind of regressing, by clustering images and what not together in a manner that I would have "fooling around" in my high school sketchbook. It was more sophisticated though. The "doodling" I was doing in the paintings was being informed by all this stuff I had absorbed - by the narrative of art history (particularly the history of painting).

Dispozicio, Oil on canvas over panel, 2007, 48" x 60"

I've noticed you used to do drawings and paintings and now only paintings. Why is that?

I still do drawings, but probably not as often as I used to. I'm afraid the excuse isn't very exciting. Basically, the paintings take a lot of time to make and usually that's what is being shown. One thing that I rarely do is make drawings to function as preliminary studies for paintings. I feel like that takes away from the experience of making the painting. Plus I like drawings for what they are, and want them to stand on their own as finished works.

I saw a very small, 'study' like painting of yours at an auction in Chicago @ ThreeWalls last Christmas. Do you plan out most of your work like that? When doing a small painting and then a larger version, do you find a lot of change in between?

This sort of relates to the previous question. I've only done that (small painting as a study) a couple of times and have decided I don't like to do it. Just like doing preliminary drawings, it dispels the experience of making a larger, more resolved, version. I do like making small paintings however, and how it is different does give me ideas for larger works. You can do things with smaller paintings that are difficult to replicate in when you go big, but its cool to try.

Gudri/Plumo, Oil and graphite on canvas over panel, 2007, 60" x 72"

How do you know when one of your paintings is finished?

This is always a hard question to answer. I want the paintings to contain a certain amount of formal and narrative tension, so when that is achieved, they are finished. That's not to say, I haven't ever stopped short or carried on too long, because I know I have. Learning restraint is another skill set like any other. Hopefully you get better at it over time.

Enlightened, oil on canvas mounted to board, 2007?13 3/4" x 10 3/4"

Teamo, oil on canvas mounted on board, 8.75" x 11.5"

Every time I read about your work, the term "sci-fi" comes up. Where does that influence come from? What other major influences do you have aside from this? How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

Well, like a lot of boys my age, much of the pop culture consumed in our formative years were science fiction, so there is no doubt that it's been a component in a lot of my work, both deliberately and subconsciously. I think it's particularly apt when describing my work a few years ago, and maybe less so now. What I think influences me more than science fiction is medieval painting. I've always been attracted to the epic narratives, symbolism, and generosity of detail. I like it that academics have devoted their careers to decoding the paintings and that these things are timeless, eternally interesting objects. They are always an occasion for new meanings even if they had a very specific function during the time of their making. This is how I want my work to operate and I think a lot of contemporary art does not.

My paintings connect to the lineage of the medium through a sort of customization of its archetypes, and through that I'm searching for my own language - my own way to define the medium of painting.

You have had your paintings exhibited in both Germany and France. Was there much of a difference in response to your work from people over there compared to here in the states? Do you have a preference on showing work here or overseas?

I suppose there might be something distinctively "American" about my paintings, which may turn me into somewhat of an "other" when it comes to European audiences. If that exists, I think it's subtle. In the art world, at least, I think the cultural swap is so frequent that whatever exotic qualities exist are diluted. The most glaring difference I've detected is when I simply show outside of Chicago, whether it's in the States or elsewhere. I seem to get more love out of my hometown and I don't know exactly why. Maybe its Chicago's history as a neo-conceptualist art town? Don't know, but you really don't see very much in the way of new, interesting painting coming out of Chicago. They may get educated here, but I guess they are not sticking around.

To finish answering your question - I don't really have a preference other than its fun to take a trips overseas, so in that sense, I might prefer showing outside of the U.S.

Kvin, oil on canvas mounted to board, 2008, 32" x 40"

Speaking of Chicago in that sense, what about it has kept you sticking around?

There are some pretty ordinary reasons for staying: friends, family close by, my wife's commitment to her job, etc. But also, Chicago has a way of opening itself up for reinvention every now and then, which I don't see as being the case in some other major cities. It can be frustrating sometimes, but every once and while, Chicago has a moment. I'm just hoping that one of these days the moment will stick and I'll be along for the ride.

Invent something, this instance! What is it?

The Humanzee, a human-chimp hybrid. I once saw this program about a chimp that was found in the 1960s that had peculiar human characteristics - walked upright, less hair, human facial features, etc. They proposed it was a Humanzee. Sort of like a missing link. Of course after some tests that became available in later years, it was determined he was just a chimp. It was very weird and creepy, and since I've developed a minor obsession with the Humanzee.

Name drop list?

Thomas Jefferson, Samurai Jack, Humanzee, The Wire, Piraat Belgian beer, dailykos.com, Branded to Kill, Wes Anderson, Underground, The God Delusion, Dark Chocolate, bulgogi, Jens Lekman, Hot Chip, Hieronymus Bosch, and Barack Obama

Anktaj^o, oil on canvas mounted to board, 2007, 76" x 95"

Anything exciting coming up in the future for you?

Warmer weather and camping season. I also have an exhibition scheduled in Dallas this September, so I'll be busy making stuff for that.

Seance, oil on canvas mounted to board, 2007, 76" x 95"

And finally, any advice to the mass hordes of young folks out there struggling to make good paintings?

First of all, the idea that there are hordes of young folks clamoring to make paintings is scary. There is too much bad painting being made as it is, so if you don't feel like you NEED it then please don't bother. Get a real job and quit thinking art is a way to make a living, be hip, and "famous" all at once.

If you are sincere about making good paintings, then I suggest you be honest with yourself and really invest time and energy as opposed to developing a "strategy." Painting is unique in that it is always about painting (seems to me). Points of departure, motivations and subject matter may vary, but it's always about developing your own language. You have to mix in a heavy dose of your own interests, skills, and failures into what you've learned about the history of art and of painting, contemporary culture, theory, etc. When everybody's problem is essentially the same. That is, how do you make a good, fresh, authentic painting when its all been done before? The solutions have to be totally idiosyncratic.

Summoned, oil and spray paint on canvas mounted to board, 2008, 60" x 72"

www.scottandersonnet.com/
www.kavigupta.com
http://kavigupta.com/artists/anderson/sa_images.html
http://www.lightandsea.com
http://www.lightandsie.com/artist_19.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanzee
{moscomment}

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