I present to you Part II of my 4-part series entitled “Storytime with Scot.” What started out as any other interview quickly transformed into a telling of Scot Borofsky’s epic tale as an artist, a philosopher, and a pretty amazing human being. This is his oral hiSTORY, and you can be a part of it just by reading his words.
Please visit Storytime with Scot- Part I and get yourself up to speed.
I’ll wait right here.
Angel Mackinnon- What role do you think the artist plays in society?
Scot Borofsky– I think of society as an organism, and I think we’re the feelers. We’re out there in front, we’re checking out the things that nobody’s ever thought of or seen before. And we’re basically presenting it to the rest of society. You take anything in art. Art is a place for new types of thought to be experimented with, to be tried.
Take, for instance, Cubism. Cubism began as this eclectic crazy thing that a couple of artists were doing and it wound its way into everything in society, everything in culture. Cubist Thought, seeing things… more than one side of things at a time. That just insinuated itself into everything, including music, writing, poetry, all of it. It usually begins, I think, in painting.
Take, for instance, collage. All these random elements of things, put together, of found materials, that’s the physical part of it. But the visual part of it is the number of quotations, visual quotations, taken from the surrounding area, composed, woven into a visual experience. A harmonious visual experience.
Collage has become a part of everything. Advertising is where everything goes first, usually. I’ve seen a lot of my ideas go right into advertising. If you’re an idea person, you’ve gotten your award when you’ve seen your idea go somewhere where you could never take it. So, it’s not about the money, it’s about being able to have, you know, at least enough money to keep finding ideas.
That’s where I see us. I see us in a way as, what can I compare it to? Some people have the gift to heal, and they develop that gift and those people are available to everyone. Depending upon the country or whatever, money is more or less an element in terms of getting healthcare. If you had a job, and you lived in Amsterdam, or anywhere in Northern Europe, you just get it for free.
So, I think art is like that too. I think that everyone should be able to have art. I think that art helps to heal people. I think that art is a place where experience can be analyzed and that the way that every artist does it- their own way- a new way- that no one else has ever done before. Every great artist has had to reinvent technique, reinvent form. You end up reinventing everything, if you’ve got your own vision. And you have to bring that and develop it to the point where it’s equal to every other type of thought out there.
You’re developing a way to think, and the way that I’m developing to think is with symbols. And I have tried to put these symbols in all types of historical contexts. Like I did one series where I painted them onto these pictures of the ruins of Pompeii, like in the background, so it looks like I got in there and graffitied all over the walls, but in fact, I just painted on the photographs. I matched the tones and stuff. That’s in a great museum now, that whole series, [at The Pierpont Morgan Library in Manhattan.]
And then there’s the Mountain Series that I did, where I traveled all through the Americas and I did mountains from all these different Latin American countries, and developed to the point where it was like a Chinese landscape and then used the symbols as seals. But I traveled for 3 years doing sketches and studies, and finally made huge compositions in order to just put the symbols on as seals, so i put them in another context.
And I also did a bunch of pieces which I haven’t shown in a long, long time, having to do with these sarapes that I collected, Mixtec sarapes from Oaxaca (Mexico), you know, mixed the symbols in with their symbols. Now I’m working on this series here where I put them on maps. But my painting really has been putting them on top of each other, and allowing rules of abstract painting to sort of take over. So I’ve tried to put them in many of the different contexts that you can see through the history of art.
Am- How do you decide what symbols to put on what map? Are they connected?
SB– First the pieces were all done as map collages. Sometimes they have lists, I have a pile of lists from work that I did, construction work and stuff that I did when I was raising my kids. And I kept those lists, so they have some of those lists and I have some of the maps that I used when I was traveling when I was younger. And then I look at them for a period of time and see what symbol in what form kind of insinuates itself onto it in my mind.
What (symbol) does it suggest? You know the colors of it, the format, if it’s a square one, I know my little shape game will go in there. But like that second one there has all the ocean area on it, it’s all blue. I just kind of saw the symbol on there in gold. The one way over on the right was a toughie, because it had such strong images in the collage materials- the guy’s face, the signs. I worked into that one for a while and it came out with that very strong red symbol on it.
That dog there is different than any dog that I’ve ever made. I call him the “Grey Dog,” partially because of my age. (laughs) The thing about that dog is he’s done on Mexican maps, and there’s one little part of Hawaii down there, but it’s mostly Mexican maps. See, it even says “Mexico” right in his eye. When you see him, you know it’s this dog that I’ve done, even did this in the East Village, and he’s got these gritting teeth and these ribs and his eyes rolled back, but he still has this sort of like secret sort of grin underneath all of this suffering.
And I was looking at him and I was saying, “What is it about that guy?” Ya know, he wants to play! He wants to play, ya know. I put the baseball down and I’ve never done that before. I gave him the baseball and I said, “Oh my god, that baseball is a symbol of American culture, and here you have this scrawny dog on the map of Mexico, and there is the symbol of American culture, ya know. He wants to play!”
I mean this is the best dog I’ve ever done. I love this dog!
But my son was a really good second-baseman. A really fantastic second-baseman. I called him “The Wall.” Nothing got between him and first base. That’s where it always gets by. Not with this guy man, he had that extra step. So the baseball means a lot to me. It also was a big connection with my father when I was a kid.
AM- Throwing the baseball around?
SB- Yeah, I was required to throw the baseball when my father got home every night. Yeah.
AM- Did you enjoy it?
SB- Well I guess so, ’cause I’ve never been able to get it out of my mind. My son was the kid that my father wanted. Better baseball player than anybody in my family.
AM- Did you have a job when you were in NY?
SB- The highest rent I ever paid in Manhattan was $350 a month. Usually it was around $250. I had 5 or 6 apartments on the Lower East Side, I never had to work more than a couple weekends a month to pay my rent. The rest of the time, I’d starve. You go to an opening every night, you get free food, you get wine, you’re good!
AM- What kind of work would you do?
SB- I did my first construction jobs, which were demolition jobs in SoHo, going into these lofts and they give you a sledgehammer and a little hammer, and you just smash away. You learn how things are built by taking them apart. That was my first construction job. And I got another job later on, painting at the Scott Hanson Gallery, which they sold some of my work, too. They have galleries in L.A., London, and Tokyo, I think. But they did sell some of my work, and that’s where I began learning how to do interior painting, which I did a lot of in my life. That’s where I first go tendonitis. (laughs) It’s nice to cut that line, keep it steady, it can be very meditative.
It’s only when you get a job working on the third floor in an attic in the middle of the summer and there’s only a little fan in there, that you’re saying, “Jeez, I don’t know if I should be doing this stuff.” Or they put you in a bathroom with that stuff (benz) that’s for covering really bad stains. And you’re up there on the ladder, and those fumes, and I remember saying to myself, “If I fell off this ladder, I might not realize it until I was laying down there for about 5 minutes!”
AM- (uproarious laughter) Well that’s good, that sounds painless at least.
SB- Yeah, that’s life, painless!
AM- So you’d do some interior painting, construction…
SB- Tons of it. I’ve done some post-and-beam work. A lot of masonry. I learned how to build stone walls. I learned how to do drywall and retaining walls, and I had a really good sense of balance and composition, so it’s been very easy for people to teach me these things. A lot of people see that it’s easy for me to learn so then they’ll teach me, and I’ve been able to get jobs from them. But the jobs that I’ve gotten are not the jobs for career construction person. They’re the types of jobs that those people won’t do, so the guy who is not a career construction person is called to do it.
When I was a kid and we hitch-hiked out to Boulder, we’d work in the labor pools in Denver and Boulder, and hopped freight trains to come back, you know, I just had so many jobs in restaurants when I was in college. I’ve had many many different jobs, but finally, I like working outdoors, and I like to go home at the end of the day and say that something was made, something was created, something was improved, something was accomplished. It’s very important for me to have that feeling at the end of the day, so I kinda settled into construction work and organic farming, I did that for 7 years. I tried to do something like Adam Purple but up here (in Dummerston) with organic vegetables and stuff, but it didn’t quite make it economically.
AM- I’ve been thinking a lot about how it would be pretty cool to have a visible garden space downtown.
SB- This is why the Arts Committee and the Garden Committee should work together, as the artists and gardeners worked together in the East Village, when they created these new spaces and they’d back each other up. You know, you have a mural, and the Garden Committee comes in and plants flowers in front of it, dogs don’t poop there, and people think of it more as an established reality in that place.
AM- Totally, it’s space-making.
SB- And if someone is trying to establish a garden somewhere and you can get someone to come in a plop down a half-ton stone in the middle of it as a sculpture, it just makes it that much more permanent.
To be continued…
Until next time, my friends.