is known for his paintings featuring a lone exploratory astronaut lost in a landscape cluttered with pop culture icons, corporate logos, and tongue-in-cheek science fiction references. Scott grew up in Boston, MA and studied art at Dartmouth College. After some time spent living abroad, Scott returned to America and, shortly before the real life, non-movie version of the year 2001, began painting astronauts and, sometimes, dinosaurs.
BM: How is your personality reflected in your work?
SL: I make paintings of a lone astronaut exploring an empty world filled with random pop culture leftovers. You tell me.
Seriously though, I hesitate to use words like “lonely” or “sad” and especially “existential” (bleh) to describe my work, because I'm not those things. But I am a relatively quiet person, and I like to explore places I've never been, and I also like to explore dumb places we've all been to a million times (like the parking lot at my local supermarket). And sometimes those experiences lead to feelings of loneliness but sometimes they also lead to surprising moments of clarity, where it feels like we're all going to be ok after all. Which is an odd feeling to get while holding a grocery bag. Is that my personality coming out in my work? Maybe. To put on my pretentious artist hat for a moment, I do feel like making art is often just a long form way of figuring out who the hell you actually are.
BM: What is integral to your work as an artist?
SL: Well, an astronaut, for one. Some paint brushes, oil paint, a canvas. Ideally some music that doesn't suck. Everything else is optional, I guess? Although heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer is pretty close to integral for me.
BM: There are a lot of beautiful landscapes you feature that are sometimes mix and urban and natural environment. Are they all based off real places?
SL: Mostly. I never wholesale invent anything, but I've been known to cut and paste in Photoshop a bit to get the look I'm going for. I realized some years back, maybe around astronaut painting 100 (and, jeez, I'm up to 300 now), that although there is an astronaut in each and every painting I make, what I was really doing was creating an entire world for my astronaut to explore. Which makes things kind of limitless, really. I can go anywhere and paint anything I want into one of my pieces. And so I have. There are particular places I've been inspired by more than others, of course. I love the look of the deserts and mountains outside of Los Angeles. I'm also drawn to the worn city streets of London and New York, the beautiful buildings of Chicago, the crazy views from hilltops in San Francisco. And I've also spent a lot of time lately thinking about our relationship to the natural world. I feel drawn to oceans and mountains and animals that I have mostly experienced only through wildlife documentaries. Which is a really odd way to have a relationship with nature. I mean, conjure an image in your head of a Great White Shark, an Emperor Penguin, or a Bengal Tiger. Pretty easy to do, right? But other than maybe the Tiger, in a zoo, I've certainly never seen any of those animals in real life, and almost certainly never will. But I feel an attachment to them, and the places they live, nonetheless. I want them to be part of the world we live in, in a real way, not just on TV. Of course I'd prefer not to be eaten by any of them. And so I guess that's why I paint them instead of, say, swimming with them.
BM: How do you overcome creative blocks?
SL: I realize there's a whole cottage industry sprouting up to discuss over coming creative blocks, and I get it. They're the worst. And every creative person in the world is probably about to hate me, but to be honest, I don't get them very often. A big part of that is the thing I mentioned in my previous answer, where I realized a while back that I was literally painting an entire world, and could therefore do anything I wanted with it. Which is rather freeing although also, at certain times, kind of intimidating.
But I guess the best tip I have is, well, you know that whole thing about “THE BLANK CANVAS” right? That iconic idea of the artist staring at a stark white canvas, hesitating for a moment, then launching themselves into a creative whirlwind? Or, vice versa, spending a whole day glancing at an empty canvas, distractedly checking Twitter on their phone, retying their shoelaces, and psychically calling their dog to come into the room and distract them, all so they don't have to make a mark on this pristine canvas because they have no idea where it's going to go? Yeah, I don't do any of that. By the time I put brush to canvas I pretty much know exactly what I'm going to do. I know that ruins this romantic notion we all have of what creating art is like (Sorry everyone, I don't wear a beret, either).
The real creative part for me often happens far from the studio. I'll be struck by some idea that seems unusual, funny, interesting, unsettling, or beautiful. And I'll jot it down on my phone. Sometimes those ideas turn into the seeds for paintings. Sometimes they're dumb crap and they just sit on my phone, unread. Either way, they percolate for a bit and eventually I sit down at the computer and open up Photoshop and I go through them and try to turn them into paintings. Again, it doesn't always work, and patience is key. Once in a while I'll even start bumping up against a deadline. But the perks of having now made over 300 astronaut paintings over 15 years is that I've got a pretty good sense now for the world I'm painting. And so, even in times where I'm a little low on ideas, I can always create a place for my astronaut to go that fits in with the rest of the world I've been slowly painting over the years.
BM: How has your practice changed over time?
SL: This is the boringest answer of all time, but it's mainly gotten much more efficient. For a very long time I worked full time as a designer, in addition to making paintings. In the early going it took me literally forever (ok, not 'literally' forever) to make a single painting. It was slow and cumbersome. I was tired from working during the day and couldn't always motivate to get into the studio. Once there, I only had a vague idea of what the hell I was actually doing, and so I'd paint something in (let's say, an astronaut), then realize later it would be better if I moved it over two inches. And so I'd repaint it. And so on.
After doing this for a few years and having made a grand total of maybe 8 paintings, I realized there was no way I could even get together enough work for a show at this rate. And so, slowly but surely, I did all I could to cut out the things in my art practice which didn't help me get to end goal of completing a painting. I became much more methodical about research and preparation, so that I knew what I was doing before I started. I began using Photoshop more as a drawing tool so that I could be more precise about things. Also, it's quicker than drawing every damn thing. I used paint that was less thick and chunky so that I didn't have to remix the same set of colors all the time. And, mostly, I just got better at doing what I do. And you can see all of that if you check out my early work versus what I'm doing now. Other than having an astronaut in it, it bears little resemblance.
BM: What is it like interacting with your social media followers with your political pieces?
SL: So I'll admit that I was very wary about doing work that was overtly political, for a number of reasons. I mean, there's been some political subtext to my work for a long time – I make paintings that are, in a lot of ways, about the future. Although more specifically they're about our ideas of what the future might bring. And it's impossible not to talk about climate change, nuclear war, robot overlords, alien invasions, etc. when discussing the future. But it felt very different to me to actually dive in and discuss specific political events that were happening around me. I was pretty nervous about it, actually. My work is often fun, and sometimes ridiculous, and I was afraid people who follow my work wouldn't love it if I veered into politics. Political work can often be overly serious, and kind of unsubtle, and I didn't want to go down that road. And I was definitely worried about trolls. Some people can handle that kind of a shitstorm directed their way. I'm pretty sure I'm not one of those people.
But I felt like I had to say something. It was no longer optional. And so I've made a few paintings in the last year or so that are more overtly political. And I've been very surprised by the results. People have, for the most part, been AMAZING. They are amongst my most liked and most popular pieces. I'm sure I've lost some followers (which is fine), but the vast majority of people have been excited and supportive to see my work go in that direction. I've gotten a few turds in the punchbowl who say things like “If you don't like America, go somewhere else!” which is patently stupid, and against the very idea of democracy. Or “It's not appropriate to criticize the president!” which, again, democracy, and which I'm also pretty sure didn't apply for them to the last president. One person angrily called me “politically correct” which seemed weird because I had literally painted birds crapping into the president's mouth, which doesn't seem very politically correct. And look, normal people can disagree on politics, and that's fine. But for me this isn't about Democrats vs. Republicans, Liberals vs. Conservatives. In my work, this is about our future (and, for that matter, our present) suddenly looking a lot bleaker and darker than it had in a very long time. This is about realizing there are things we can and should be doing right now to potentially change that outlook. As someone who makes paintings that are, in a large part, about where we are going, where we are ALL going, not just the ones with money, or the ones on this side of the wall, I felt it was necessary to say something. What was the point of doing all of this, painting for years and years and trying to find an audience for my work, if I didn't?
But, thankfully, most of the people who follow my work feel that way too.
BM: Where would you like to see your work take you within the next year?
SL: I mean, if it wanted to take me to Hawaii over the winter, I wouldn't complain.
Seriously though, I've reached a point now in my work where I've gone from making a bunch of loosely connected paintings which all have an astronaut in them, to making a set of works for each show which actually tell something of a self contained story. Which has been a fun transition, and I think makes the work resonate more with people. For instance, I did a show at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles this past June, called Franchise, which was all about our weird love of burger chains, coffee shops, pizza huts, donuts, and other assorted fried things. It was cool to do a deep dive on researching local franchises, and I thought it was a fun show which told a very specific story.
I also made a promise to myself, given the current political climate, that I'd like to start doing something with my work this year to help out more. I've done some print releases that have benefitted charities, and I've (as mentioned previously) done some work with a more overt political tone. I'm still figuring out how to do more of that kind of thing within the context of my work. Oh, and I painted my very first mural recently, at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, as part of the POW! WOW! Worcester mural festival. It was a really fantastic event, and I'd love to do some more things like that in the coming year.