Our next Artist You Need To Know is John Scott, a multi-media Canadian painter, sculptor and installation artist. Murray Whyte has described his work in the following manner: “Most often expressed in big, gestural swipes of black and red, Scott’s work renders the world can be black and white, victor and victim; in drawing so clear a line, he makes you question whether, in the vicious game of have and have not, shades of grey matter much at all.” Although well known for his ‘bunny’ works, he is perhaps best known for his Trans Am Apocalypse, of which he has made three versions.
Curator David Liss, in the catalogue for Scott’s exhibition in 2008 described the artist’s work as “at once apocalyptic and hopeful; they evoke both fear of annihilation and the shrewd instinct to survive; they embody the conflicted state of anxiety that characterizes our being.”(from here)
Not unusual for many who grew up in Windsor, Scott left high school before completing and worked in a factory, where he became involved with his union and developed an interest in both workers’ rights and larger political issues. Another significant influence was “Toronto street culture” of loud, often rebellious music and underground ‘lowbrow’ aesthetics. From the National Gallery of Canada: “John Scott views himself as a political activist and blue-collar artist. His work combines counterculture aesthetics of the late 1970s and the 1980s with a sociological ideology that is wary of the consequences and human cost of a capitalist ethos and economy. Through drawings, installations and transformed objects, Scott presents an apocalyptic vision of a world ravaged by war and threatened by destruction.”
Scott’s works are immediately recognizable, with an intense and bold nature that verges on the crude at times, and his materials have often been the most readily available – what some might call cheapest at hand. Industrial solvents, pigments that are ground into the paper, graphite and charcoal that can’t help but make a viewer think of Scott’s history in industrial spaces like Windsor and Detroit, are hallmarks of his work. Conceptually, Scott has a tableaux of recurring players in his industrial wastelands, such as “dark warplanes hovering over destroyed landscapes devoid of human presence. He has also drawn rabbit-like figures to stand in for the anxiety-ridden human being, the harassed victim of the technological threat and militaristic oppression. Heavy dark lines record an impending sense of tragedy and terror.” (from here)
This wry ‘end of the world’ sentiment is manifest in John Scott’s Trans-Am Apocalypse (of which there have been three), which has been installed in numerous spaces, sometimes galleries, and once memorably at the Art Gallery of Windsor, when the gallery was in the Devonshire Mall, and the car sat out front in the main mall space, confounding and delighting shoppers. Scott updates the idea of how Death would not ‘ride a pale horse’ (as that harbinger of the apocalypse has so often been depicted in art history), and when – not if – they arrive now, they’d drive a ‘muscle car’ instead. Not only is this more fitting to our times, but is more impressive, while also touching upon the machismo such a vehicle embodies (a factor in our species’ drive to self destruction). Further, such a car contributes significant pollution to the environment, offering another connection to the industrial wastelands we inhabit and keep creating, repurposed in the materials Scott uses in his two dimensional pieces.
Scott attended the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design University, OCADU) from 1972 to 1976 and later became an instructor at the school, where he taught for nearly four decades.
His solo exhibitions have included Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Montreal, QC; Ron Mandos Gallery, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON; Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto, ON, and Air Gallery, London, UK among many others. His work has featured in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC; Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre, Banff, AB; The Power Plant, Toronto, ON; Fodor Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and the Centre for Inter-American Relations, New York, USA. His work is in the collections of Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON; Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa, ON; and Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre, Banff, AB.
In 2000, Scott was awarded the Governor General’s Award for the Visual Arts (considering all the pre-millennium tension of that time, it was an appropriate year for him to win that honour). He lives in Toronto.