I present to you the third installment of one of the most rewarding interviews I’ve ever had the honor of conducting. I spent about 3 hours at Scot Borofsky’s studio in the Cotton Mill building last month, and got much more than I counted on. Plainly stated, Scot has quite a story.
And of course, feel free to stop by Scot’s Website to experience even more of his story through art.
Angel Mackinnon- So I think I know how NYC contributed to your evolution as an ARTist. Anything else you want to add to that?
Scot Borofsky- Well, that it taught me about the ART business. When we came out of school we had no clue how to make a living as an ARTist. They teach you now, they have classes on career building, etc. We had no clue, we weren’t even allowed to talk about it. It was sacrilegious.
When I was a young ARTist, I thought that if people see a picture, it doesn’t matter what wall they see it on. It could be at the bowling alley or The Met, and it could look exactly the same to them. That’s not true. There were a lot of sort of idealistic ideas I had when I was younger, that were right in their attitude, but untrue in the world. And they’re good to have when you’re making the Art. When you go out of your studio, and you go out into the world of money and careers and competition and positive and negative, and…
Please don’t expect anyone to measure up to what you believe in. That’s your thing to carry, and you’re gonna have to work with the thing as it is out there. When you’re young, you don’t even want to think these thoughts. But as you get older, it becomes a practical thing. I want to make work, I have to sell it.
And it’s quite simple actually. Every kind of art has a place where people will purchase that kind of art and has a price which is correct for it’s point in the market at this given moment. So all you’ve got to do is figure out those two things, and you’re good, but it’s really hard.
AM- The golden number!
SB- That’s one thing, but the place is more important. To make it really simple, if you put Maine seascapes in Vermont, and Vermont landscapes in Maine, you won’t sell them. Because people go to Maine to buy a seascape, if they were going to buy a painting. If they come to Vermont, they’re going to want to buy a local-made product, a craft or a landscape or something like that. Maybe some little still-life of a country table with some cloves of garlic and a pitcher of milk or whatever.
But also, of course every area that you go to has contemporary paintings. But it is different everywhere you go. An ART scene is all-encompassing in terms of everyone that’s involved in arts in a certain area. The local gallery should show local artists. The local museum should do shows of the local artists, the masters. The local artists should probably try to teach in the area where they live, and most important of all, the local collector base needs to be activated so that there’s a way for an artist to make a living by selling artwork.
For instance having art openings at the galleries where everyone gathers. And that’s a place where low-brow mixes with high-brow. Your starving young artist, who’s living on somebody’s couch and working in somebody’s basement, gets to meet the most wealthy and influential collector at the opening. If they want to, the younger artists and the older artists can meet, and everybody gets to know each other in the community.
This is even true in New York City, with hundreds, thousand of artists. Everyone knows each other. If you see the same person at an opening over and over and over, finally you find yourself sitting there sipping on a glass of wine talking to them. And it just goes that way, you’re standing around, you’ve got to talk to someone. This is what art is all about, you know. It should be in a big open room, not confined in little areas. It should be in an open room where people can mix.
There should be an event on a regular basis where people dress and come to try to impress, either with their knowledge and interest as a collector, or what they’ve got to offer as an Artist, or whatever it is that they’re doing in the Arts, they should be there. Brattleboro, for instance right now, there is no such event. We’re fractured. Nothing is connected. There is no real arts community which really interacts and know each other.
AM- It seems like this building (The Cotton Mill) would be the closest thing to that. I don’t know if you’d agree with that?
SB- Well if there’s more than a half-dozen artists here, I’d be surprised. You’ve got a few painters and a few sculptors. But here it’s mostly the Jazz Center and dancing places, and I feel a little exclusive here, actually. I don’t think there’s another hallway like this.
AM- You have a pretty sweet entryway.
SB- Well you notice there’s no titles or prices or anything like that. The town tried to tax me, the town of Brattleboro contacted me and said that “You have to pay a tax because you provide a service.” So I called them up and said, “What service do I provide?” And they said, “Well, you’re selling work.” And I said I haven’t sold any work out of that building. Well I sold some out of galleries, so I figured they ought to pay the tax.
So I said to the guy, if you’re gonna tax me if I make something and someone else sells it, you’ve gonna have to go into all these stores and chase down everyone that’s got something for sale and go back and tax them. And I don’t know who the guy was who I was talking to, but obviously he had a great sense of humor, because he said, “Well obviously we’re missing a lot of money that we could be getting.” (laughs) And I said, “Well, how did you get my name?” And he said, “Well we just got a list from the building, so I’ll take you off the list.”
AM- What’s you’re price range? What are people looking at?
SB- I have stuff that begins at $150-$200, up to as high as, I have a couple of paintings, one of them is 7′ x 15′. I mean, my contemporaries, my age, that have a similar resume go up to $50,000 on a big piece. And of course you sell it to a gallery, you get half, and then you pay 20% in taxes (of the half that you get). So say I wanted to get $2,000 for one of these paintings, then I would have to figure that I have to get $2,500 ’cause I gotta pay tax. And they’d have to sell it for $5,000 for me to make $2,000.
But now ArtRageUs is doing a great thing. If you join down there, they’re taking 10 or 20%. They’re artists. So they understand. When you get into the market, then you’re not working with artists.
AM- Do you think that ArtRageUs1 could be that space?
SB- I think that ArtRageUs is trying to find themselves, and I think they really have great potential and great potential for the town. They bought their building, so that’s where they’re gonna be. It’s a small space, but it’s really very much about promotion at a certain point. And the other thing is going to the art fairs.
Galleries in the United States make 60% of their income on a yearly basis at the art fairs. And there’s art fairs for every type of income and every type of gallery all over the entire country. So Artrageous, if they decide to, can invest to take all of their artists down to the AAF Art Fair for 5 days on the pier in Manhattan, and they’ll make a lot more sales down there than they would on Main Street. That’s why a gallery can exist in Brattleboro or anywhere, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, or even god forbid New Hampshire. That was a joke.
They can still be successful by selling their work in Manhattan or Boston of L.A., or they can go over to Cologne or anywhere because these art fairs, you know they put them on in all major cities. And once you belong, you can pay your rent on the booth for the art fair, and then you have your expenses of moving and where you’re gonna stay. But once you get there in the art fair, it’s half a mile or quarter mile of galleries. A square mile of galleries on this huge pier in Manhattan, this huge huge buildings. And they have cafes, restaurants, bars. They have performances, demonstrations, talks, everything going on all over the place.
And, above all of it, there’s this one booth where they pack the work that’s been sold, and at that booth, they have this tape that they stretch off the role, and when the stretch it, you can hear it stretch for a long ways. The whole art fair, I could hear that tape stretching. I wrote an article about the AAF Art Fair for the Gallery Walk magazine (read it Here!), so I was interviewing people from all these different galleries. On the last day (of the fair), I did not see an unhappy face. I swear, everyone was happy.
And the thing about it is that you come from a place like Brattleboro, and they have a limit to the prices at the AAF Art Fair, $5,000 maximum, for I think 3/4 of the work. 1/4 of the work can go up to $10,000. Now if you live in Manhattan, a lot of people in Manhattan buy their apartments now. They’re not like you and me. They buy the apartment, and once you own the apartment. It may cost $40,000-50,000, $1 million , $2 million, $3-4-5 million, depending on the apartment and where it is and what floor it’s on, etc.
So once you own your apartment, then you think about owning things like art. So they go out to buy a work of art in Manhattan, you really can’t buy a good work of art for less than $10,000. You know, the gallery gets half, and the artist has rent to pay, so they want like $5,000 bucks for a small piece. This is a young artist, nobody knows about them, but it’s a good work of art. It’s gonna cost $10,000.
So by going to the AAF Art Fair, if you’re down there, you can buy great art from places you’ve never heard of by artists who live way way out there, and they’re selling it for 2-3-4-5,000. So that’s why the AAF Art Fair is so successful. And a lot of people who own their apartments are young people.
AM- Where did they get all the money from?
SB- You know, a lot of them are Dot-Com millionaires, and you know if you had $10,000 to invest in 1987 or ’88 when these things were starting up, it went to outlandish numbers. Bought it for a buck, sold it for $500. I don’t know. So that’s why it works so well, and that’s why Vermont artists, Brattleboro artists, should be represented at the AAF Art Fair.
And you, know, unfortunately, people in Vermont… It’s the only state that is not represented in any art fair that I’ve been to, including the AAF Art Fair, which is the right one. I don’t know of any gallery that goes to these art fairs. There was this one gallery in Walpole, Cynthia Reeves’ gallery, and they had a little pop-up in Brattleboro for 6-months or so.
So that’s how you could be living in Vermont, painting Mount Wantastiquet and have a collector in Manhattan or writer in Manhattan, and art critic, can see your work and say, “I want to put it next to my Jackson Pollock.“
AM- ‘Cause they’re not coming up here to buy art.
SB- Right, they’re not coming up. And if they come up, what are they coming to? But that collection with the Jackson Pollock in it. When that person, that collector, one of these fine days decides to move on to another life or whatever, then their collection is gonna get donated to the museum.
Well, the landscape from the painter in Vermont that nobody ever heard of is gonna go into the museum with the Pollock, because it’s part of the collection. And that’s how art gets more value. That’s how it gets into museum collections in many cases, is by being part of a collection which the museum really wants, because of other artists are in it. For instance, I had a piece bought by The Met, it wasn’t a donation, it was a purchase right out of the newspaper.
I knew someone who worked up there, a friend of a friend. So when I got my work into the collection, he took me around to see my work, where it was and stuff. He also took me to see other stuff in The Met that nobody ever sees. It was really cool. We went down to the basement actually, where there’s was a blocked-off tunnel that went under the park to the Museum of Natural History. Yeah, he showed me the entrance. With all these Roman sculptures lying around.
AM- That sounds amazing!
SB- So one thing he went to show me was this room where they had their graffiti collection, and this couple who had donated, The Newmans, Deloras and her husband, Hubert. Hubert and Deloras.
AM- Wow, you have a great memory.
SB- Well, for collectors! They donated something in order to get all these graffiti paintings that they had bought early on into the collection. You know, a little family secret I guess, but I saw it, so. But these painting were in a room, a room like this, but just in a pile in the middle of the room! Just piled up. (The Met) had taken the work. Now those paintings are probably in frames and they all have a value, and someday, they’ll probably be out in the modern section of The Met.
But at that time, they did someone a favor by taking the work so they could get something else that they wanted. That’s part of the process, you know? And that’s how someone who no one ever heard of who is an artist here in Vermont, who’s just in the community, can become someone historical.
The worst thing that happens, is you know, the artist lives up here for their whole life, they die- You know, the population changes around here so much, in 10 years, nobody even remembers who they were. And there’s no record of their work, their family came, you know, Aunt-this, Uncle-that, people that they never heard of, didn’t even like, they all take 10 paintings, head in 40 directions. The work is dispersed, it’s not photographed, it’s not organized, it’s not anywhere. This artist will never be shown and retrospected maybe for 100 years, or 200 years.
Until someone like Vermeer, you know. Someone finds one, says it’s amazing. Finds another, wow these two are amazing. Now we know that Vermeer may have made like 150 paintings or something, but he died of poverty and nobody heard of him for I think hundreds of years! I think there’s only 2 historical references to his life. I read one of them, it was a little note in journal by an Italian collector. And the note said that “The Illusion was Believable.”
That’s it. Vermeer is thought of as one of the most important painters in the history of Western painting. He was just a guy in a small town that went broke and died. So we’ve had plenty of those around here, but who knows who they are?
AM- I love that line, “The Illusion was Believable.”
SB- That’s what was important. In those days, the only that was really important in art was if it made you believe that it was alive or real. There was no photography.
AM- How has Brattleboro contributed to your evolution as an artist?
SB- Well I am sort of a textbook Brattleboro artist, in a way, because my family, my mother was the piano teacher. She tried painting, I have one of her paintings back here. So she was very supportive in the arts. In those days, there was no Brattleboro Music School, there was just two piano teachers in the town, and one guy who taught all the other instruments. And the other piano teacher was my mom’s piano teacher, so she was pretty old at that point.
So, I had this horrible experience of coming home every day and little girls were playing piano in my house, and I had to just go out or go in my room. And I had be the Master of Ceremonies at the recitals that they had, because I was my mom’s kid, so I had to announce everybody, and I had to play, and I couldn’t make one single mistake because I was the teacher’s son.
So she allowed me to quit when I was 12. So I quit as soon as I could, but I’ve always been able to play by ear. And I picked up guitar, and I played saxophone as a kid. And in my travels in South America, I learned how to play the quena flute, and the regular flute, and the shakuhachi Japanese flute. I’m not a musician in any sense with all these instruments, but I have been playing guitar for like 40 years or something. I’m ok, But I’m not a musician. I play music when I am going to paint, get in the mood. And I’ve recorded a few things, but you know, just for fun.
So I had that musical background, and I had another Aunt, my Aunt Martha, who really was very supportive. So I went to all of the local things they had around here. They had this place called Mud Hut down on Main Street for kids, where I played with clay and painted for the first time, used oils for the first time. Then I had the local art teachers, Olivia McCromme and George Lane, a real character.
And the thing about it is, if you’re a kid and you’re gifted in art, you don’t know this. It takes an art teacher to tell you. And what they’ll usually do, from my experience, art teachers will take young artist under their wing, they show them special privileges, in front of the whole class, they make them feel special. They let everyone in the class know that “This Kid Can Do It.” And I had that experience over and over again. And when I finally was at Brandeis University, and I had dropped out and went back to try art, and I got a teacher, and this is what he did to me immediately.
He was a very important artist, Peter Grippe, he was a cubist and abstract impressionist sculptor. All of his work is in the Allentown Museum. And he took my work he put it in his office, and he worked it out with the administration so that I could take 2 art classes instead of 1, got me in his class. He taught figurative sculpture, and that’s the piece (points to sculpture) I made in his class there.
On the first day, he brought out the tools that everybody had to go out and buy. And I was a young kid, this was all juniors and seniors in the class, and I was a sophomore, and he had gotten me into the class. He brought out these tools, brought them around and showed them to everybody, two tools, wood sculpture tools, kind of like a knife with a metal scoop thing, a large one and a small one. And so he took them around, a little bit like a butter knife and a little bit like a spoon, and showed them to all the people, and then he walked over to me in front of everybody and said, “These are for you.”
From that day on, I’ve felt like I must be an artist. If this guy did this, I must be an artist. Right?
But I want you to know that I have never ever known that the artwork that I’m working on is gonna work, is gonna be good. I have never known that about any artwork. Talk to some artists and they’ll say that everything they do is art. But I could tell you that everything that I do is not art. I have to work very hard at it. I have a natural talent for it, but it’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever learned how to do. The thing that is so difficult is what I find so compelling, you know.
Every moment of the painting from the very beginning has to be at the highest quality that you are able to do. And if you lose that quality at any point during the painting, you’ve killed it, you’ve ruined it. You’ve got to repaint it. You’ve got to start it over. You can make a painting that shows all of your skills, all of your knowledge, a great great painting, and all you’ve done is shown what you can do. You haven’t discovered anything! You haven’t broken the rules, you haven’t found anything new. You’ve just had a good day in terms of your ability.
But it’s not the kind of thing that really is exciting. Like, okay, I’ve made a good one. But on another day, you’ll mess everything up, and you’ll discover something that changes your life. That’s the day you enjoy, not the one where you made the good product, but the one where you’ve struggled, fought, went under 2 times, 3 times, barely came back up and found it, and brought it through, and made it work. And you’re looking at it going, “I can’t believe that I made this thing, I never saw anything like it before, but I’m sure that it works now, and look, I just learned this and now I can start to do this in all my work.” And you’ll be able to do whatever it was that was difficult that day, easily a year from now.
I find it to be very exciting. Also, I find that as an artist, the people that I get to meet, the artists, the collectors, the dealers, the writers, they’re all really really amazing intelligent people, and it’s a real thrill for me to know these people, and to be part of not only my life of creating art, but their lives of creating art, too. And to watch their developments and their struggles. And you know, struggles don’t only happen in the work, they happen in the life. All kinds of pit-falls and walls that people have to climb over, and difficulties, and prejudices, and all sorts of things that people have to overcome to try to find their vision and then somehow get it to the world. I just think it’s a fantastic profession.
You know, capitalism has changed things in that at one point in time, if you could do something that most people can’t do, that in itself was prestigious. But capitalism has lowered everything to it’s dollar value, and that’s a very crude way to measure things, especially intellectual things. So it’s not the world that it used to be, but even though we can’t walk around in purple capes and have pockets full of money, as artists, still we have each other, we have the discussion, we have the struggle together. And that’s the thing that’s kind of missing in a way from the Brattleboro arts scene: it’s that we aren’t all together.
But you can’t blame the museum (BMAC), because the museum has made an incredible effort to really do shows of local artists and to round up, like 50 miles in every direction, everybody that they can find into a show. And they are as professional as any organization could be. You cannot say anything bad about the museum, they are totally professional, they’re open, friendly, very involved in the community. If they would only allow artists to hand out their cards at the openings, it might start to bridge the gap between the artists and the collectors who support the museum.
AM- Why don’t they?
SB- I don’t know exactly, I don’t want to speculate about that, but I think it’s a policy that needs to change. And that’ll be a lot more fun for artists to go down there, and if they have a show up, then they can go to the museum event, and then all the people in the room know about it by handing out the invitation with an image from the show. And I don’t see how that hurts anybody that is viewing work there.
And that is the only criticism that I have to offer up towards the Brattleboro Museum, which I wish I could spend and hour of praise in order to balance that out, because I have an hour of praise for all those people down there. Especially, of course, Mara Williams, who if there is a saint of art in Southern Vermont, she is it.
AM- That’s some great praise!
SB- I think I might be able to do better!
To Be Continued…