Scott Cousins is a New York City-based artist who loves mixing paints and creating visual parties on canvas http://scottcousins.net/. He seems to be a driven, passionate artist who believes in the power of art to touch lives. Check out our chat and see for yourself.
MICHAEL: Hey Scott. The thing I really like about your work is that it's so free-form. I love the round canvases. Right now, you seem to be pre-occupied with the cosmos. What's the inspiration there?
SCOTT: Yes! You and I both feel freedom in my paintings Michael. That spontaneity is very New York City. Every stage of my process is about discovery. So my experience when I'm at work is exhilarating and the compositions have life. My new 2012 series titled: "Expeditions Without a Parachute" is daring. It's definitely a blip on the retinal candy radar. A lot of movement and opulent color play. Yet I also have an affinity for the reductive and minimal that play important roles in my work. Some of my alchemical secrets really are very entertaining visual experiences - especially in person or as a backdrop for a great party! Someone once said my paintings are: "A grand party for the eyes."
MICHAEL: And also a grand party in the cosmos?
SCOTT: Cosmos? Oh yeah, there's an abstract narrative. Like my newest big piece called, "News From the Known Universe." It's a metaphysical metaphor for "the way all things go." That's META2! This idea could apply to interpersonal dynamics or quantum physical mechanics. It simultaneously contrasts and warmly combines intimate emotions with cool, logical science. It's as if to say, "Today's NEWS changes everything and nothing." Art, like interesting answers, raises fresh, relevant questions. But makers of paintings and collectors of paintings are born and we keep a beginner's mindset. We're always discovering something that might be the greatest, coolest, hottest thing. Really!
MICHAEL: Your work seems designed to cheer people up.
SCOTT: Absolutely. Making art is satisfying for me. It's transforming and viewing it has similar effects on others. It's problem-solving and exploration. Fifteen minutes with a work of art and an open mind can change your life. The math has a surprising significance over a longer time frame on many levels. We're social creatures and art at the very least enhances or sheds light on shared human experiences. Intellectually and even spiritually. Abstract painting is akin to music or great writing; you'll find new thrills, sexiness, tenderness or humor. It's an otherworldly space. On a more universal scale, there's potential to reveal scientific realities and clues that can be useful. My painting is a universal form of communication after all and exchanging ideas is crucial to getting through the week or the next millennium. It's intuitive or sometimes counter-intuitive. I hear it from collectors all the time. When a work resonates with someone, it gives back what you bring to it.
MICHAEL: Although various shaped canvases have been used by artists in the past, you really seem to enjoy thinking "outside the square." How do you decide when you'll use different shaped canvases?
SCOTT: The shaped canvases I'm making and the paintings that sometimes have sculptural addendums are inventions of the mind. By keeping my mind empty and not having thoughts, ideas that are strong and pure present themselves. There's a decisive line between action and inaction. The time I spend when I'm not painting is as important as the time when I'm in action. Time is very valuable and like my supplies, I don't waste it. Once I'm designing, drawing or painting, I'm not really thinking at all. Sure, there's still a conversation I have with the art in progress, if it's exhilarating, tickling or touching, but my body knows what to do. Aesthetic innovation is exciting to the art world. Selling art to luminaries garners respect and admiration from your peers and galleries. So my own motivations spring from my beginner's mind when I work. Sure, knowledge of the past influences aesthetic decisions. But being an artist is about giving yourself to the present moment and the future. It's an entrepreneurial endeavor and lot of diligent work.
MICHAEL: What's the difference for you between a conventional, square canvas and one of another shape?
SCOTT: I strive only to paint what I'm compelled to paint on any given day. So when I decide to make art outside of the rectangular window, I'm doing it to play. The spirit of play is something I value above many other things. There are as many ways for art to reach an audience as there are individual pieces of art. My art isn't stingily dry and falsely demure, but it could happily go anywhere and be a lifetime guest: in a glamorous & urbane tower, a modern palace or a bohemian cavern. It has a lot to say but it will never bore you to tears.
MICHAEL: Your work seems very painterly. Even online, one can see the heavy textural treatment and almost gloppy application. As you say, it's playful and yet also seems to capture the essence of expression.
SCOTT: Thank you Michael! There are lush areas of very strong "impasto" in my work. The iciness of the paint, the intensity of the color and the dimensional effects that occur really ARE very edgy. I've even invented my own tools to apply the very high relief impasto to make beautiful streaks, lines and patterns within the marks. My paintings are photogenic, but when you see them in person they're endlessly fascinating. People who love painting know the paint is a thing unlike anything else. My paintings are very tactile and meant to be touched by your eyes! The glossy areas sometimes sparkle and contrast the areas where the beautiful raw linen is matte and only lightly stained. Yes, they're playful, whimsical and expressive.
MICHAEL: You must do a lot of experimenting with paint.
SCOTT: I consider myself a lucky man to have these incredible, rich materials. I use gorgeous imported paints loaded up with pigment, as well as mixing some of my own paint from raw pigments. The imported Belgian linen is a tasty color. I could refer to gem stones and would not be exaggerating since some of the pigments first travel from many spectacular places around the world. All of this so I can make a unique, one of a kind object that a photo reproduction can only compliment, but could never capture. Collectors pay millions of dollars for paintings and who knows, maybe someday they'll invest that for mine too. For now, my paintings are absolutely a great opportunity for collectors who really love art and want an avant-garde and substantial focal painting. It also gives them something to talk about!
MICHAEL: What do you think about the New York art world? How much of it is bull crap and how much is authentic passion and devotion to emerging art and artists?
SCOTT: I try to enjoy the abundantly, talented and beautiful people without getting too caught up in the currents of light. It's a very seductive scene. We all enjoy being around great art and at the hub of something larger than ourselves. What artist doesn't hope to wake one day to some kind of meaningful respect and fame? I don't fault showmanship unless there's no delivery of great art in the package. Some great artists are lousy performers. Hey, do you know what the rents are like for a gallery spaces in NYC these days?! Everyone hears people making absurdist or pejorative statements about this-or-that work. Those statements can sound quite ridiculous unless you're an art critic and a wise, intelligent, knowledgeable one. It's so subjective and freedom to speak your mind is a freedom I use but don't abuse. I leave the criticism to the critics. For better or worse, gallery people have very pragmatic agendas. I wouldn't say the gallery scene is an inspired fire in 2011, but there is a sense of us all being in this together - alone. I hope some of us are at least self-aware. Whether our agendas are worthwhile will have to be left unanswered, by me, today anyway. I'm not one of those people who's only capable of appreciating what's high or low or out of my reach. I think the best idea is to be grateful and not care too much about "the scene" and find ways to keep working at making more and more art.
MICHAEL: Despite the art world and the art market, MOST people will never really have any real contact with art or living artists. After all, the world population is now seven billion and people do have other priorities. What do you think it'll take to broaden the audience for contemporary art?
SCOTT: Sharing the understanding that art is simultaneously a necessity and a luxury could open people's minds and hearts. Different artists, writers and other creative professionals work towards making their art relevant on different levels. The agendas I mentioned definitely are part of a larger interaction. There's high brow art, low brow art and really, every kind of art relating to the subtler senses that somehow reaches our human consciousness via our physical senses. It's all good art and part of a conversation but great art really affects the quality of life. My own art is counter-intuitive and a contradiction. I'm making objects of material value that are also about the broad, shared human experiences expressed with marks that are bold and universal. Visceral, gutsy and entertaining at a glance, but also subtle and complex when further contemplated. I don't think all seven billion people would agree that my art is relevant to their lives, but in the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king. The two eyed man is a fool.
MICHAEL: How did you get to where you are now as an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?
SCOTT: That's a tough one to answer concisely. I've been lucky to have talent, though that's no guarantee of any success. I've been fortunate enough to have been encouraged and taught by numerous artists in my family, though again, artistic success can't really be transferred via DNA. I've been diligent and humble enough to learn from mentors and teachers and also to work like a slave toward my artistic vision. But being an artist and a painter is an endeavor that requires a lot of personal sacrifice for most who decide to be one. Belief and confidence in your art are essential. Other attributes I posses or cultivate in myself: A lack of ego, high ethical standards, integrity, intelligence, just a few that work for me. You and I both know, the art world isn't really any different than any other work place, but at the end of the day, I'm my own master. I'm very grateful to the wonderful and talented collectors who collect and display my work. Without an audience, an artist has a very tough road.
MICHAEL: Finally Scott, what do you ultimately want your work to say about you?
SCOTT: The art I make never simply "says" something about anything. The colors and surfaces make ever changing music, whirling, floating and sweeping across your senses, sparking synapses of thought, lighting up your mind. That's my desire.
MICHAEL: Thanks Scott. This has been great.
To see Scott's work for yourself, check out his website at http://scottcousins.net/