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The works of painter Michael Scott offer a unique portal to America’s wilderness

By on March 23, 2022 0
“Fire Tornado Redwoods,” Michael Scott, 2015-2019, oil on linen, 58 × 99 inches. (Courtesy of Museum of New Mexico Press)

Preternatural describes what is suspended between the banal and the miraculous.

For Santa Fe painter Michael Scott, the word captures the spirituality of the environment. It’s also the title of his upcoming book launch at Santa Fe’s Evoke Contemporary for a coffee table book about his work featuring 127 color plates. The book launch and conversation with the artist takes place Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26 in the gallery at 550 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe.

Scott’s paintings draw from our national parks, archetypes and iconic works of American canon. He wraps his imagery of mist and myth in a unique alchemy, infusing it with the regenerative spirit of nature. His gigantic works (up to 10 feet tall) reflect his own sense of wonder, not literalism, providing a unique portal into America’s wilderness. The book launch coincides with an exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center featuring his landscape paintings.

“If you look back over 40 years, I focused on the environment,” Scott said in a phone interview from Santa Fe. has been an ongoing conversation with me.

For him, the American landscape represents natural versions of European cathedrals; treasures he sees as sources of spiritual nourishment in need of protection.

His last work spans about 12 years. It works in spurts; some paintings take years to complete.

Many feature metaphorical, if not real, fires entwining and rising through the trees. Ghostly animals surface in others, the spirits of the mythical phoenix rising from the forest floor.

“My workout came out in fourth grade when we took a school bus tour of the (President Harry S.) Truman Library in Independence, Missouri,” Scott said.

He was impressed by the Thomas Hart Benton murals commissioned there.

“All of the mythology of the West and cowboys, wagons and Indians were all represented in these murals,” he continued. “It stuck with me.”

Much later, he met the artist at the University of Cincinnati.

“He said, ‘You want to learn to paint, look at me,'” Scott said with a laugh. “He had a real attitude against the art world.”

Scott works instinctively, without tracing his compositions.

“I let the paint direct its lens,” he said. “They’re not necessarily trying to describe a place, but they’re trying to understand a place. If you assume you know nothing and want to know everything, you become an empty vessel. It is the dance that a painting goes through.

“Fire Tornado Redwoods” was born from a trip to see the California giants, where he was impressed by their stature.

“I dragged myself to these places to explore their meaning and what made them so great,” Scott said. “I couldn’t understand them. They are so big and you are so small. It was a failure. »

Two years later, he realized that the composition was wrong.

“Early Mist Buffalo River,” Michael Scott, 2015-2019, oil on linen, 57 × 73 inches. (Courtesy of Museum of New Mexico Press)

“I lowered the horizon line to the bottom of the picture plane, allowing the redwoods to rise above.

“Redwoods are somewhat protected from fire by the thickness of their bark,” he added. “If there is a diseased tree, the root systems of other trees will supply it with nutrients. The fire tornado almost became a rhythmic dance with the trees.

“Winter Owl Over Fire” represents what Scott calls “a phoenix painting”. The transparent silhouette of the bird hovers above the flames in the middle of a scaffolding of trees.

“There’s one thing about representing fire in an environment,” Scott said. “It’s quite another thing to represent fire in a snowy environment. He has his own climate conversation without being too categorical.