As I try to wrap my head around the works of Scott Greenwalt I continuously find myself spiraling into a mind trip of gore, patterns and the grotesque beauty of these large scale portraits and lanscapes. In an effort to understand the artist intentions and purpose behind the works, we sat down to interview Scott and pick his brain on inspiration, process, history and the psychology of his new collection of works, Alchemist.
Gallery Hijinks: What inspired and motivated your new body of work?
Scott Greenwalt: The last 37 years of life on planet Earth.
GH: Controlled chaos seems to play a role in your paintings, where compositions flow into strange and unexpected directions. Please explain the artistic process.
SG: For quite some time I have been obsessed with depicting action in new ways. A major component of the germination of my ideas is simply time. I usually spend about six months on any one painting from start to finish. I work on several paintings at a time and spend a lot of time just sitting with them, individually as well as grouped together, looking into them to find what they need next. It’s a slow building of incremental growth and change. If everything is comprised of infinitesimal parts in constant motion, how does everything keep from intermingling? My work concerns an alternate dimension where plants, minerals, animals, electrical charges, ectoplasmic effluvium, atmospheric conditions all come together momentarily and form a new being, then move apart into reformed organisms. This process continues infinitely, without ever stabilizing.
GH: Do you have an initial idea for the piece, do you sketch or does it just flow from you in an organic way?
SG: I usually have a really vague idea at the outset what the overall form and color scheme will be. Once I actually start painting, the various components build off of one another and later weave back through each other. The paintings are generally grounded in traditional formats of landscape and portraiture. That sets up a loose structure to experiment within. Then I just make shit up as I go along.
GH: Please explain the philosophy behind the portraits? What are some of the inspirations and why?
SG: One of the initial inspirations for the large portraits were the large black and white paintings by Chuck Close. I had been fascinated with them since first seeing “Keith” as a kid at the St. Louis Art Museum. One day, about a year ago, I stood before some of his large works from the last several decades, but I could not take my eyes off one particular portrait. What captivated me was the handling of the subject’s chapped and weathered lips. The more I looked, the more broken down and abstract it appeared, comprised of jagged little triangle forms. This was before his spinal artery collapse and resulting change of approach, but there were the same things going on in those lips that manifested on a looser, more abstract level in his later work. Since I don’t work directly from reference material most of the time, I am faced with the challenge of abstracting something that didn’t exist yet. Rather than breaking down an existing image into abstract units, I am trying to herd disparate abstract units into an understandable, yet alien image.
"Keith" by Chuck Close
Francis Bacon’s work has been the richest source of inspiration and frustration. How does one go about deconstructing the nature of the human animal, modern life on earth and the history of painting in the wake of such masterful handling of the subject? This problem can keep me up at night. I also spend countless hours ruminating on the work of Hieronymus Bosch.
"Self Portrait" by Francis Bacon
"Portrait of Michel Leris" by Francis Bacon
Detail of "Christ in Limbo" by Hieronymus Bosch
Then there is my obsession with the work of special make-up effects artists Rick Baker and Rob Bottin. Growing up watching sci-fi and horror films, mostly from the 80s, was a tremendous influence on everything that I have done artistically. Bottin’s work on John Carpenter’s The Thing may have been the single biggest influence on the way I look at the world.
MIB special effects by Rick Baker
GH: How do the paper pieces with wood glue fit into the equation?
SG: I’m interested in what happens to an iconic image after the icon becomes obscured. What happens to the human face when layers build up and obscure the features beyond recognition? If the human head suffers a massive physical trauma, the swelling that results can distort and obscure the signature forms of a once recognizable face. In time, the swelling reduces, the wounds heal and the body returns to it’s normal state. Though a significant transformation has occurred, often scar tissue will be the only visible artifact of this change. With this work, I am concerned with the manufactured transformation that transpires when semi-translucent layers are built up, slowly swallowing up any distinguishing characteristics into an ectoplasmic goo, leaving the remaining robes to swaddle the amorphous slime.
Vaporous Mold Spore with Pearl Earring (after Vermeer)
GH: The dark, rich, color palate (i.e. red drapes, black backgrounds, earth tones) versus the bright, even neon colors both play an equal part in this collection. Please explain your reasons for using these very different hues and how you’ve made them work together?
SG: For the last few years I had started all of my paintings on a black background to eliminate context. They were like organisms floating within a void. Over time, this void became more densely populated and space began to form. In outer space, each chemical gas reflects a distinct color. As these organisms become more complex in ever expanding space, more chemical reactions take place, generating stranger wavelengths of light.
Seventeen Minutes Prior to This Exact Moment by Scott Greenwalt
GH: How is art history incorporated into the body of work?
SG: I think about the history of painting, it’s evolution through the centuries, and it’s contemporary potential as a relevant means of expression on a daily basis. I guess, like any revision of history, my vantage is skewed toward my own idiosyncratic aesthetic preferences. I borrow what is useful or interesting to me and generally ignore the rest.
GH: What are five words that would describe your art?
SG: that shit is fucked up.