Scott West: From Cloud Cult to Still
Scott West has the most unusual and innovative gig of any painter I know. For the past 8 years, West has become nationally known for his onstage painting with the indie rock band Cloud Cult. In his work with Cloud Cult, West creates an entire painting, start to finish, in the time it takes for the band to play a set (which can be less than an hour). West does this seemingly impossible feat night after night, constantly creating a completely new work for every performance as the band tours.
With this kind of rigorous, nontraditional experience under his belt, it’s not surprising that West is taking a fresh and unusual approach to his first solo gallery show, the semi-ironically titled Still, currently at Tarnish and Gold in Northeast Minneapolis. During Still’s month long exhibit, West will be in residency, setting up his bizarre custom made touring easel , which can spin in circles and has a foot brake ( I’m not kidding) , in the middle of the gallery space. Here he is making new work during regular gallery hours. These new pieces will slowly replace the show’s original 28 paintings, allowing the exhibition to evolve throughout the month.
I first met Scott West after a Cloud Cult show last spring. During the performance, I was incredibly impressed by West’s abilities on stage… and slightly confused by his painting techniques. West doesn’t use a pallet, he just dips his large, well worn brushes straight into paint cans and mixes colors directly on the canvas. It seems impossible to get good results this way. However, by the end of that show, West had a somehow created a sweet and curious a goat wandering though a dreamlike landscape of paint drips and color fields. Finishing with time to spare, he was at a microphone singing during the band last song.
Over the past few months, I’ve watched West plant and grow his work for Still. During this time, I’ve been impressed by how he has challenged himself again and again. Despite the fact that West has been painting for over a decade, and has made more work this year alone than many artists do in a lifetime (an estimated about 150 pieces in 2010!), he has not settled into the laziness of using and reusing a formula. His work is constantly evolving. When I see the pieces West was making last January compared to his newest work, there is no doubt in my mind that his explorations, this year alone, have lead him to new and very fertile grounds.
As an artist, one of Scott West’s main concerns lays in the expressing of process. He does this not only through painting in front of an audience, but showing process in the paintings themselves. As he builds up a piece,West leaves areas open to reveal what is underneath, acknowledging every layer of the painting. These acknowledged layers create their own narrative. They tell the story of the artist’s journey through the work. Fragments of pencil lines, paint drips, and fields of under-painting are all visible in West’s best work. He leaves a map to his entire process.
Like most of West’s work, the paintings in Still are very emotionally expressive. His colors are bold, straight from the can (literally), his strong use of line is confident and effective.
“I believe in line work,” West told me over coffee last week, “ I see it as a signature”.
West also uses outlining with black or white line to create a greater luminosity in the colors. This gives work a stained glass -like affect. West uses this to his advantage throughout the show.
Scott West’s work at Tarnish and Gold does not feel “Still”. It jolts with a sense of movement and vitality. West has told me many times that his paintings are “loud”, and I agree with this, but this is just one aspect of his work. In other ways his paintings are very subtle. His figures express hope, loss, ambivalence, and fear. These emotions are etched in the faces of his subjects. There is an unmistakable tenderness to his painting, a deep concern for and connection to humanity.
West refers to this work as “psychological portraits”. They are not about realism as much as capturing an essence through form and color. About this, West says, “I take an individual and paint them in a certain way, and that’s why the style varies, because I feel each individual has their own personality and spirit and that individual shouldn’t be treated like all the others.”
Scott West’s work in Still is honest, sincere and satisfying and his idea to create a constantly changing gallery show is refreshing.
Go see it for yourself! If you went to the opening, go again. It’s probably a different show by now.
On View: Friday, November 5, 2010â€”Monday, December 6, 2010
Where: Tarnish and Gold
Address: 1511 Marshall Street NE, Minneapolis
Hours: See Gallery Site