Who and what I've stolen from

Every piece of art is an amalgamation of ideas, influences and techniques from others and my stuff is no different. Here's a partial list of my thought crimes, starting with  . . .

My Grandfather was a butcher

Yes, Granddad took up a big knife to dispatch poor beasts and then carve up their warm carcasses.  I never saw him at work -- thank god -- but as a child I held his hand on walks through Seattle's Pike Place Market where he'd talk shop with other butchers in their blood stained aprons. Making sausages by grinding piles of glistening protoplasm -- ears, lips, cheeks, noses and other odd, unmentionable meaty bits -- was his specialty. Though a committed vegetarian now, I do share his instinct to deconstruct the ideal and refashion it into something new and dynamic.

Butcher with freshly made sausage

LA's La Brea Tar Pits

In elementary school I was fascinated by the well-illustrated specter of Pleistocene animals -- large and small -- trapped and waiting to die in the oily mire of California's La Brea Trap Pits. This prehistoric drama clearly haunts each Smacker.

.La Brea Tar Pits scene

Crack-pot car dealer Dick Balch

During the '70s, Seattle car dealer Dick Balch took a sledge hammer to his inventory of Chevrolets in low-budget commercials every week. Hugely successful, Dick was far ahead of his time -- anticipating elements of the Punk movement. From Dick's example I learned that an object's value can be enhanced by its destruction. 

Seattle car dear Dick Balch in the '70s

Excavating fossil bones in Oregon Badlands 

As a teenager, I worked summers in the Oregon desert as a field assistant to a Vertebrate Paleontologist. Weeks at a stretch were spent scouring steep mint green escarpments for fossil mammal bones. Though the hard business of excavation didn't compare to the thrill of discovery, I came to love the sight of a fossilized skull or skeleton emerging in situ from its dun-colored matrix as the fragile specimen was carefully pedestalled and jacketed with plaster bandages for removal to the lab.  (In camp I slept on a cot, not the ground, to avoid being joined in my sleeping bag during a chilly night by a heat-seeking rattlesnake (Crotalus Oreganus) -- a terror that once befell my boss!) 

Low-relief portraiture:  Persian bas reliefs

In the mid '70s I found myself flat broke in Pre-revolutionary Iran, where I got hired by the Imperial Iranian Army to teach English to helicopter pilots. The Shah was buying up surplus Huey and Cobra choppers by the hundreds after the fall of Saigon in anticipation of the inevitable dust up with neighboring Iraq. As a result Esfahan, where his air cavalry was based, thrummed with whuppa whuppa whuppa 24/7 like a scene out of Apocalypse Now.  

My students were 18 year old conscripts with little or no mechanical experience. Few had even driven a car so it was no surprise that one or two were killed weekly in training accidents. 

Proud of their ancient civilization's heritage, my pupils urged me to visit Persepolis, the Persian capital destroyed by Alexander the Great 2300 years ago. I was staggered by the massive, fire-scarred tableaus of royal life that remain in the palace ruins. When sunlit, these majestic reliefs -- huge hand carved expressions of absolute and brutal power -- produce dramatic shadows and deep impressions.

Lion attacking bull at Persepolis.

First foray into sculpture making . . . and sales!

In the early '80s, while not driving a Cambridge Yellow Cab, I butchered cardboard boxes to fashion kinetic wall sculptures with a hot glue gun and poster paint.  Themes of childhood trauma, alienation and the excesses of American life littered my boundary-pushing work but I soon found an appreciative audience while showing at a local artist space. My first sale  -- a cardboard piece entitled Exploding TV -- was to young curator from Boston's newly established Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). Now a tenured Harvard professor, his advice to me back then was "Scott, you could have a future making art if you use more durable materials  . . . like aluminum or plywood."   

From Basement artist to its Artistic Director

That first show of my work was at the Basement, a struggling space near Boston's China Town. Its founder was departing so I took over as Director and quickly established a board of directors and acquired tax-exempt status (501C3) from the IRS in order to accept grants. Funding followed and the gallery hosted edgy events including Boston's first LGBTQ artist show in 1984. However, while I enjoyed the job's perks, the administrative load was not in my wheelhouse so I mulled over options. In the course of feeding Basement activities to the local press, I had discovered a knack for publicity. So in 1985, as the gallery was closing due to condo conversion,  I hatched a plan to put my talents to the test by creating a collectable and then leveraging interest in that newly galvanized commodity to experience first hand the summit of America's media and entertainment establishment.  Hell, why not? 

Mr. Lunch Box and Mr. Cereal Box

So I went to work like a demon and by the late 1980s and early 1990s incited not one but two baby boomer crazes  -- vintage lunch boxes and cereal boxes -- by amassing huge collections at flea market prices, publishing zines (Hot Boxing and Flake) to wet collector interest, writing five reference books (all out-of-print), and then flogging the heap on radio and TV to enjoy an exploding market and my 45 minutes of fame. Phew!

My deep dive into the collectibles universe taught me two lessons germane to Pop-Smack: first, that the preoccupation with perfection or "Mint" condition among collectors is a trap to be embraced by numismatists but avoided by artists intent on breaking new ground. Second, that incorporating pop icons like Batman, Bart Simpson and Michael Jordan is key to a future artistic endeavor by insuring instant recognition. To paraphrase a realtor trope, it's Character, Character, Character, stupid.  

Embedding ceramics in concrete: Frank Lloyd Wright

On a visit decades ago to Frank Lloyd Wright's Arizona house -- Taliesin West -- I was blown away by how the architect had embedded antique ceramics — large and intricate scenes from 19th century Chinese opera— into the field stone and concrete walls of his desert masterpiece.  This delicious contrast between the fragile green and blue details of the porcelain and the rough surrounding cement was unexpected, strange and oddly beautiful. I love 'em -- and pocketed the idea for a later day.

Wright's embedded ceramics

Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and (Neo) Pop Art

Andy Warhol's appropriation of consumer iconography to blur the line between what is or is not art is everywhere and inescapable. And Andy loved ceramics especially cookie jars. More an affirmation than inspiration to me, Julian Schnabel applies gobs of paint to canvases paved with broken china. Lastly, Warhol's artistic heir Jeff Koons scales up common-place objects and kitsch (a.k.a. "manufactured art for the masses") to open the door wide for the post or altered-kitsch of Pop-Smack. Bless his black but gargantuan heart!

 Andy Warhol's cookie jarsJeff Koons scales up pop culture 

The take away?

While my inspirations may be varied and somewhat eccentric, the historical antecedents for Pop-Smack are plentiful and solid. Unpacked, the entire expressive tangle stands in a long and time-honored tradition of deconstructing the past in order to conjure the future.

Get me now?



Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.