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Art

trinity

Three simultaneous exhibits celebrate the genius of San Miguel painter David Settino Scott [14] BY GLEN STARKEY

Y


Heightened A conversation

senses

with outsider artist David Settino Scott

ARTIST WITH SELF-PORTRAIT David Settino Scott poses near a recent self-portrait completed in his San Miguel studio—a building he designed himself.

I

n an unprecedented coup, local artist David Settino Scott has three shows running simultaneously—a feat never before accomplished in the SLO County art scene. Scott, whose work resides among Hollywood’s elite as well as collections throughout the country, is an artist with many different faces. He paints gorgeous, glowing florals that will remind viewers of the work of Mexican muralists. But he also tackles tough subjects, as in “A Pure Working,” which memorializes the self-immolated monks who protested the Vietnam War; in “Cut,” which depicts self-abusing women; and in “Disturbances”—small paintings of atrocities. Just who is David Settino Scott? Read on. New Times Gordon L. Fuglie, the curator of your SLO Art Center show, who also wrote the prologue to the wonderful catalog ($33) that’s been published to commemorate your triple-venue exhibition, makes the argument that you’re a primitive painter. I understand his position, but I don’t entirely agree. He compares you to Henri Rousseau, Paul Gauguin, and Grandma Moses. Your painting “The Source of the Nile” is very similar to Rousseau’s “Sleeping Gypsy” or “Exotic Landscape,” but your work is much more sophisticated than Grandma Moses! You may not follow art trends, and hence you’re primitive in that regard, but you certainly understand classical painting technique and anatomy. I remember once we were talking about your style, and you said, “If I could do it another way, I would, but this is the only way I know how to paint.” SETTINO continued on page 16

UP, DOWN, AND ALL AROUND A pastoral nude, a disemboweled woman, a floral painting, a sculpture of Cleopatra—David Settino Scott shows it all at the Steynberg Gallery.


BY GLEN STARKEY PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER

INSTALLATION VIEW The SLO Art Center has grouped David Settino Scott’s works by themes in a wide-ranging display of 30 years of work.

QUIET CONTEMPLATION Salisbury Fine Art in Avila Valley is exclusively displaying David Settino Scott’s lush florals.

INTERACTIVE ART Many of David Settino Scott’s panel paintings invite the viewer to open and close the work, seeing layers of ideas.


SETTINO continued from page 14

David Settino Scott It’s true. I never knew what I was doing. I’m entirely selftaught. I would love to be able to paint impasto like Lucien Freud—so bold, that thick paint he puts on the canvas. My [style] is a little more chickenshit, but I’ve always had my sights on improving my technique. I know the difference, and the idea was to always get better and better, so I studied the masters—John Singer Sargent, Goya—and more and more I got involved in painting and the application of paint. What really gets me going is studying the work of great painters. New Times Well, that brings up another question, David. I know you well enough to know you know you’re good, but also to know you have a lot of humility about your work. I also know you know art history as well as any of us. My question is, in 100 years, will you be remembered and known, and if so, what will these future art scholars think about you and your work? David Settino Scott I’ve always begun a painting with the idea of making a museum-quality work, and whenever I’ve tried to make something simply for money or because I thought it would be commercially viable à la Thomas Kinkaid—something that would reach a broad audience— it turned out to be a tremendous failure. New Times So you’re not painting for today’s audience? What will people think about you in 100 years? David Settino Scott I’ve always thought my work would be appreciated much later. I imagine I’ll be regarded as a minor artist, something of an idiosyncratic artist. There are artists right now who are very hot. [John] Currin’s work sells for hundreds of thousands, but there’s nothing real about his work. It’s a fad. Julian Schnabel? Jeff Koons? Those are the people at the head of the line, but whether they’ll be remembered in 20 or 30 years? I don’t think so. New Times Well, that begs another question: In your opinion, in all of recorded history, who’s the best artist ever? Also, who’s the most famous ‘worst’ artist? In other words, who’s famous but shouldn’t be? David Settino Scott As far as greatness, I seem to always come back to Goya. But Currin, Schnabel, Koons—it’s like they have nothing to say. New Times Really? You don’t think years from now someone’s going to want a giant facsimile of a silver Mylar balloon dog, or a ceramic sculpture of Koons having sex with his Italian porn star wife? David Settino Scott Ha! It’s sensationalism. I don’t pay attention to the current scene. These names come up because you open a magazine and see them. Now Goya, he painted what was necessary, not what was trendy. Early on he painted courtly paintings, and there was nothing particularly special about them. But he lived through a horrible war in Spain, became deaf, became an expatriate. He transferred his life experiences onto the canvas. His work became about what was relevant. New Times You have a series of slave ship paintings and an epic slave ship sculpture, but that’s chronicling something that happened 400 years ago. What’s relevant about that? David Settino Scott We still have that bigotry, people being despicable to one another.

New Times I actually just read the other day that throughout the world there are more slaves today than in any other time in recorded history. To me, your slave ship paintings are using an icon from our past as shorthand to remind people that we’ve come a long way but not all the way. David Settino Scott Yes! Goya’s “Disasters of War” etchings, which I saw

MYSTERY CREATURE! The mounted head of a mystical creature greets visitors of David Settino Scott’s retrospective, “California Primitive,” at the SLO Art Center.

when I was 21 years old, made an unforgettable imprint on my mind like nothing else. Man’s cruelty to one another was finally revealed. Up to that time, most war paintings were filled with pomp and glory. But Goya’s etchings, [Mathew B.] Brady’s Civil War photos, the rotting, twisted bodies at Bull Run—up until then, no one chronicled that. New Times You have a series called “Disturbances,” ten paintings in church-shaped frames that depict atrocities in suburban settings. Innocuous titles like “Bay Meadows” depicts three naked, hooded bodies left to lie where they were shot against a wall abutting a tract home neighborhood. “Seaview Garden” displays two bodies, both beheaded, one with feet also removed, on a knoll near some cookie cutter condos. These are awful, horrible images, and they seem to be reminders for American viewers of the kinds of atrocities we export to Third World countries brought home to our safe little neighborhoods. You seem to be saying, “We’re complicit. Just because these things don’t happen here, doesn’t mean America isn’t responsible when they happen in El Salvador or Afghanistan.” Interestingly, in the three concurrent exhibitions you have running, none of the venues agreed to display this series.

David Settino Scott I got them in the book though! The fact that no one wanted to display them just confirms how much people want to ignore anything that reminds them of their own inhumanity. The world is insane and we cover our eyes to it. We’re in this crazy mental hospital with our eyes covered. New Times Historically, a few notable artists (Goya, Picasso) have

created work as a rebuke against an event or entity, but has that ever had any effect? I know propaganda works, but what about protest art? Do you think when you tackle these tough subjects that you’ll have a positive impact? David Settino Scott You know what? I used to think it didn’t, but after my work matured and I understood how to use metaphor, I began to see they did have an effect. I finally felt doing these kinds of works was worth a damn. I was giving a talk at Cuesta College once about the “Disturbances” paintings, and after the talk people were coming up and chatting, and a woman was brought up to me, a young Latina woman, and there were tears coming out of her eyes, and she said, “Thank you for this work.” And she told me she was from El Salvador, and she, her mother, and brother were riding the bus, and the police stopped the bus, took her mother and brother off the bus and shot them dead on the side of the road. She told me this, and then she collapsed in front of me! People caught her, friends or family, I don’t know, but it was very moving. New Times My God! That’s incredible! When you’re making images like these, what are you thinking? David Settino Scott The purity of it is, I don’t know what I’m doing when I’m doing

it. In fact, I don’t even want to be making these paintings, because I’m afraid they’re sensationalizing, but they come out. New Times You make plenty of lush, gorgeous images—things most people would want to be around and enjoy [See especially the work at Salisbury Fine Art], yet so much of your work deals with humankind’s shortcomings: greed, violence, selfdestruction. Much of your work is likely to disturb and provoke. So, what are you? Happy-go-lucky, a pessimist, a towncryer, a Cassandra? What? David Settino Scott Well, thank God I’m not one thing. That would be boring; my work would be boring. I think I get distracted easily, and I’m just curious and impatient. New Times When you’re working on painful images, is it painful for you? I think, for instance, of your series “Cut,” which depicts a beautiful nude woman who’s a cutter, a self-abuser who makes tiny cuts with razorblades. David Settino Scott Painting that was very easy to do because she was a very beautiful model, and applying the cuts was a sort of meditation for me, a sort of reminder of my own narcissism—turning the pain inward. I would rather suffer than see someone else suffer, and I know what it means to be a self-abuser, not by cutting, but in other ways. New Times You’ve certainly lived a lot of different lives. You worked in the film industry doing props on the first Star Wars, on Caddy Shack, on Firefox. You’re a pilot and former flight instructor, a motorcycle nut, and a crazy mo-fo (There’s a story of you in Mexico I shan’t reveal that illustrates this nicely). What in the hell is wrong with you and your need for speed, feral experience, and reckless freedom? David Settino Scott Lust for life? I don’t know. I did do some dangerous things, dangerous things in airplanes, on motorcycles. People who do extreme sports, I understand it—pushing yourself right up to the edge. Luckily I didn’t get addicted to that adrenaline rush. I got to the edge and came back. I think art saved my life. Glen Starkey likes to invite David Settino Scott to his parties because watching a 71year-old man charm a 20-something girl is its own reward. Wrangle your own invite at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

Art trifecta! Local artist David Settino Scott has three concurrent exhibitions that run through February. “Floral by David Settino Scott,” a series of images reminiscent of Mexican muralist flower paintings, are on display at Salisbury Fine Art, 6985 Ontario Rd., the old school house in Avila Valley, open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5959463). “California Primitive: A David Settino Scott Retrospective” features 30 years of paintings, drawings, and sculptures on display at the SLO Art Center, 1010 Broad St., in SLO’s Mission Plaza, open Wednesday through Monday from 11 to 5 p.m. (543-8562). And finally, “David Settino Scott: Paintings and Sculptures” is at Steynberg Gallery, 1531 Monterey St., SLO, open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (547-0278). An artist’s reception will be held on Friday, Feb. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. in both the SLO Art Center and Steynberg Gallery.


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