Reinvention: a Q&A Session with Adam Scott

I recently went to Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago to see Antonia Gurkovska's first solo show with the gallery, after viewing her show I stepped into Kavi's second gallery where a group show of his artists was installed. I made my way past a Tony Tasset sculpture, a huge Angel Otero painting, and a few Curtis Mann photos to the back room, which was full of a group of incredibly exciting, though unfamiliar paintings. It came as quite a shock to find out they belonged to Adam Scott, whose work I have been familiar with and a huge fan of. Adam has been making large, super-saturated paintings of deconstructed cartoon-y figures and scenes with a sort of implied narrative. The paintings are made by pouring paint in a controlled way to construct an recognizable image, but with a degree of slippage allowing for a wavy, tripped-out looseness to the it. The new work is much different; no cartoons, a new collage aesthetic, and a nod to a left-brained formalism not formerly prevalent in his paintings. So I decided to talk to Adam about the reinvention (after the jump)... --Josh Reames, Chicago Contributor

Adam Scott | Victory at Sea, 2011, acrylic polymer, mica, silica, and color xerox on canvas, 
66" x 60" 

Adam Scott | Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 2012, ink jet prints, color xerox copies, spray paint, acrylic polymer, silica dust, mica dust on canvas, 70" x 76"

Adam Scott | Paint Job, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 70" x 76"

Josh Reames: Adam, this new body of paintings is a MAJOR departure from the last 10+ years of work you have been doing. Can you tell me about the thought process that fostered this huge change?

Adam Scott: I needed a working method that was more direct with a higher velocity.  I wanted the freedom to find something, quickly process it, and plug it into my work.  The content of the new work carries over from the 2001-2010 body of work.  I'm still interested in filtering and distorting the visual byproducts of the collective American experience.  I still have an uneasy relationship to the dominant popular culture, therefore I find it necessary to work with it, rearrange it, cut it open, glue it back together.  I am still using the raw/found material that was used to guide my older work.  It seemed like the next logical step was to inject it directly into the bloodstream of my current paintings.  I have always been heavily indebted to the tactics of appropriation.  

I've never really felt 100% comfortable calling myself "a painter".  When I was an undergraduate student studying art at California State Long Beach, I was involved in making video works, large-scale installations, and printmaking.  Painting existed around the edges of those activities.  Yet, I always seem to find myself putting materials on canvases that are rectangular in shape.  I guess it's something about the frame.  The frame as filter, the frame as an engineered territory.  The frame always truncates and freezes anything that is put inside of it's boundaries.  I'm interested in using culturally loaded images and objects to make 2 dimensional material statements that toy with abstraction and but never fully drink that particular brand of kool-aid.

Adam Scott | Olde English, 2011, acrylic polymer, mica, silica, and color xerox on canvas, 57" x 43"

Adam Scott |
Lustro, 2011, acrylic polymer, mica, silica, and color xerox on canvas
, 61" x 45"

JR: As a painter, it's exciting (and rare) to see surprising material/process moves like these. Describe the parts, the process.

AS: I would say that I'm interested in 'processing" rather than a static notion of "process".  The specific works that are up right now at Kavi Gupta Gallery are really about processing, collage, and glue---processing three-dimensional objects via a Xerox machines into warped 
reflections of themselves.  I spy the most interesting results of that Xerox warping process, and then collage them with a custom acrylic polymer.  These paintings owe their allegiance to an excessive or adrenalized decoupage technique.  I really don't see the paint as being part of the descriptive / representational machinery like it functioned my last body of work.  I'm more interested in the paint (which is really plastic) as an undifferentiated material that entombs everything in its path.

Adam Scott |  Lustro II, 2012, ink jet prints, color xerox copies, spray paint, acrylic polymer, silica dust, mica dust on canvas
, 60” x 66”

JR: What about the images, or advertisements, that you've collaged into the painting. Where did that come from? How do they fit into the way you are thinking about your paintings?

AS: I've been using bits and pieces of advertisements, postcards, record album sleeves, book spines, found animation from the 1950's, etc . name it and I probably used it in my 2001-2010 body of work.  The source material was not so recognizable because I would translate them through the process of painting.  Now, I'm taking that same raw material and processing them through the Xerox machine to flatten, warp, and generally push them into the flatland of painting.  My paintings have always had a sculptural quality.  The new paintings are more like phantom collages of very real things.

JR: I've always thought of your previous body of paintings as a delineation of some sort of psychedelic pop experience - like eating shrooms and watching a Bruce Bickford animation, Saturday morning cartoons, and then making a painting about it. But the new work doesn't seem to illustrate that mindset, it demonstrates it. Instead of illustrating something, it IS that thing. Is this something you have consciously done, or am I projecting?

AS: That's absolutely right!  I wanted to push into a space that was much more embodied, rather than pictured.  I'm still using images, but I want to get closer to their materiality as images rather than the more conventional landscape configurations that I was using in the older work.  By processing the objects and images that I find via Xerox machine there is a simultaneous opening up and closing down of the cultural referents.

JR: As an artist that had developed a style, a complete makeover seems risky - especially when you have representation with a top-notch dealer. I think too many artists get stuck with the expectation to maintain what they are doing, or have been doing, long after they've grown bored with it. So, on a professional level, props for having the guts to reinvent yourself. Did you experience any difficulties with this decision or was it an organic move?

AS: Change is the name of the game.  It is always fraught with chaos and uncertainty.  Interestingly enough, that idea hit me like a diamond bullet when that Matisse show was up at the Art Institute of Chicago.   His unflinching ability to move into new and uncomfortable territory risking everything, making what I consider to be ugly and painful work.  The show really unscrewed my head.  

It has been quite challenging to push in this new direction.  But, I've been working on this new for about 3 years now and I'm feeling a rush of radical freedom and unlimited possibilities.  It can be a terrifying experience to put something new out into the world, but danger is my business.

Adam Scott | Electric KoolAid Acid Punch, acrylic on canvas, 
46" x 46"

JR: You always talk about "filters" in art making, please explain. 
AS: I simply mean that art making is a byproduct of living in the world.  We are these biological filters that soak up everything around us and translate it into art.  When we make art, we are always creating different art filters based on what we are interested in at any given time.  When the work changes, it is usually because we have replaced the existing filters with new ones.

JR: What are some of the filters you are currently using?
AS: color Xerox machines, distortion, and echoes

Adam Scott | Auld Lang Syne, 2011, acrylic polymer, mica, silica, and color xerox on canvas, 56" x 50"

JR: Other than the group show at Kavi Gupta here in Chicago, anything on the horizon?
AS: I'll have work up at the 2012 Armory show, then a solo show at Kavi Gupta this year.  People Get Ready!


Adam Scott is a Chicago-based artist represented by Kavi Gupta Gallery. He has had solo exhibitions at Kavi Gupta Gallery (Chicago), Kavi Gupta Gallery (Leipzig), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), and Galerie Schuster (Frankfurt). Group shows include Roebling Hall (NYC), University of La Verne (CA), the Prague Biennale 2 (Prague), and Kavi Gupta Gallery (Berlin).

Josh Reames is a Chicago-based artist and director of Manifest Exhibitions

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