Welcome to On the Edge of Art’s final installment of Storytime with Scot, for now! I hope you enjoy the completion of our interview, which took place last month in Scot’s studio.
You can catch up on the previous installments right here- Storytime with Scot- Part I, Part II, & Part III. They are epic tales that stand-alone, however when woven together, they give the reader an amazing amount of perspective, related by one of Brattleboro’s most influential artists, Scot Borofsky.
And don’t forget to visit Scot’s website by clicking Here!
AM- My next question is about Ken (Hiratsuka)’s sidewalk piece. I was just wondering if you could tell me how it ended up there (on Elliot Street in Downtown Brattleboro).
SB- Well, I invited the curators from the Brattleboro Museum (BMAC) to my studio. They came over and looked at my work, and they said “We like to put together group shows. If you can come up with a group where this fits in well as an overall theme, we might consider doing the show.” I said, “Guess what? Got the group right here, right now.” And they said, okay. So I gave them the concept and the artists, and they liked the idea so they decided to do the show.
So I called up Ken and I said, “Ken, you’re gonna be in a museum show, a beautiful museum, and they’re gonna pay all your expenses for moving the work, for everything, we’re gonna try to do a catalog. And this town really supports the museum, so you’ll be a real popular guy when you’re in town. And by the way, we’ve got some great breweries.” And that was all he needed to hear.
So he came up and I said, “Look Ken. What would you think about, while you’re here, doing a piece for the town?” And he said, “Well Scot, You know when I do work, they pay my flight to the country, my hotel, food, they bring me a crew to help me.” And I said, “Well, we did as much as we could with the museum.” So he said, “Yeah, I’ll do one.“
And then I had to go to the Selectboard for permission, and they talked about it. There’s two pieces of granite, there’s one left, downtown in sidewalks, over by that shoe store, over by Amy’s (Bakery), another piece of granite. I thought, god, I’m gonna go to this Historical Society and they’re gonna say, “Well look, we only have two pieces of granite downtown in Brattleboro. It’s Vermont granite, it’s centuries old, and we really don’t want somebody coming in here and messing it up.”
No, they were totally open, they loved the idea! I showed them his work, and they said, “Go for it.” And it was so easy to accomplish, just as an artist going to the Selectboard, and I think it was great for the Selectboard meeting to break it up, instead of talking about these budgets and these policies and all the stuff, to talk about a work of public art for a change.
AM- How long ago?
SB- This was when we did the museum show, so I think that was 2007.
AM- So all 5 of these artists (from the catalog) were represented in the show? Did they all come?
SB- Nope. Keith Haring had died. Basquiat, Jean-Michel Basquiat had died. So they both had work in there, but the real focus was on Gormley, Hiratsuka, and myself. Gormley was there. And the reason that Gormley was in the show was that Gormley really had become a study of Basquiat, and he really got to understand all of the elements of Basquiat’s work.
Okay, so Basquiat used a paint-roller on his paintings, and so what he really imitated was the dialog that goes on between kids who are tagging walls and the superintendents of the buildings. They come out and paint it over with some paint from the basement. The paint on the wall is faded, so you can see the square where they painted it over.
AM- One of my favorite things in this (catalog), is your photograph (of painted over graffiti on a wall).
SB- You know where that’s from? That’s from the wall in Oaxaca City of the Governor’s Mansion, and they paint that over almost every day! I had a friend who was an artist living down there in an apartment across the street, and she said she was talking to the grounds guy. You know, it had been graffitied over in the morning, and he was hanging around, and it was the end of the day. And she said, “Why aren’t you painting it over?” And he said, “There’s gonna be a parade tomorrow morning and they’ll be coming back and doing a lot more, so I’m just gonna let them hit it twice before I paint it this time.”
That’s what Basquiat did in his work. He painted, he drew, he wrote, and then he went in and edited out with that roller. So Gormley picked up on this as a technique based on the dialogue between the tag artists and the superintendents. So he brought that to his work, but also, Gormley created a language of symbols. They’re more abstract than mine. So in those ways, his work related to both Basquiat’s and mine. And I was really trying to bite off a lot in this show. I really wanted to really not only show some of the beginnings and the history of street art, but also how it had affected contemporary painting. And so that’s what we were trying to do, and it was a lot, but it kind of came off.
AM- Well this is really an amazing, this-
SB- Document! That’s very important, you know. And I know this because I’m a street artist, so I know that anything that I do outdoors, eventually the artwork is going to be a photograph, a website, a film, made from it. But eventually, the artwork will be gone.
AM- And that’s why I love it so much. I hear you loud and clear about how it changes, and that’s why I chronicle the train art in town, and why I started the blog, because that’s my favorite kind of art, that just might be gone tomorrow. And it’s so important to this moment. It’s a real study in being present with that thing that may be gone the next day.
SB- It’s really funny. I always pick these dilapidated places, which are supposed to make you think of cultures that have come and gone, so in every case, it almost follows that something changes there. Building will be built, things change. And I almost know that as soon as I put a painting there- You know the perfect example, is Cultural Intrigue. I did a mural across the whole back of that lot when it was a vacant lot. Did you see that?
SB- Yea, I got permission from Cersosimo, it was like 200 feet long! The entire mural, the whole wall. Within 6 months, they were building that building in front of it. Within 6 months! And that lot had remained for sale for years. As soon as my painting was up there, everybody started thinking about what they could do with that lot. Within 6 months, that building went up there and it covered the entire mural. It covered the entire mural, the entire height and the entire length of the whole mural.
As they were building it, I walked behind there once, and I saw that there was no windows in the backside of the building! Not only could nobody see it from outside, but not even people in the building could see it! But it wasn’t too long before Adam (Gebb) approached me and said, “You know, a lot of people miss your painting over there. How would you like to do something on the building?” And I said to him “No. No man, I don’t do that.” I’m not like a trained monkey, go do this, go do that. I go do what inspires me.
And then I looked at his building and thought that it was actually pretty cool, so I said “Yes,” I’d do it. I worked on it for 3 years, and I worked in the summer, against a metal wall with a tar floor, the sun beating down on you. There were times, in order to get the work done, where I’d have to keep water on my head the whole time, and I came really close to getting sun stroke on a couple of occasions. When I first started the paint, well, there were some objections. When I first started that painting on Flat street, I was out there, and a car came behind me and I heard a gunshot, and I heard something going ricocheting against the building or the ground or something.
AM- Sounds like an objection!
SB- I was making a line, I was drawing a line, and it had to be perfectly straight, and I did not waiver for that gunshot one millimeter. I kept it completely straight. And then the second shot came and it was nowhere near me, and I knew they were just trying to scare me. And by the time I finished the line, I turned around, and the car was gone. But when the first African American family lived downtown, someone shot a gun at their house. Occasionally, people go out and shoot off a gun to express themselves. I don’t think it was an attempt to shoot me or anything like that.
But that happened and I didn’t tell anyone about it because I was afraid they’d tell me I couldn’t do it. But now I can say it, and I can also say that I met most on the people who lived on the block in the course of painting it, and they were wonderful people who were totally supportive and became friendly and supportive with me, and they loved the painting. And ya know, in the end, I’m sure the person who didn’t like the idea of the change, probably likes it now.
AM- And it looks so beautiful with the wildflowers right in front of it.
SB- Yeah, Adam has really tried hard to make that building into something that compliments and helps out that neighborhood. And of course there’s a sign that says, “Don’t pick the flowers,” but that’s what you say when you want people to only pick one or two flowers. So that’s what happens, and I’ve seen so many little girls going by there and picking a flower for their teacher. Or a woman going by at night coming home from work, picking a few flowers for her table, and it’s a beautiful thing.
And people love the mural. I’ve seen kids go and run next to it. And of course we don’t realize that that mural is about 4 1/2 feet high, so we’re all 4 1/2 feet, but for those kids that are under 4 1/2 feet, that’s a full-size painting, it’s their size. I’ve seen them run next to it, and I’ve seen a little girl have her mother take a picture of her as she pretended to climb up onto the back of one of the horses.
And for children, this stuff is really great, but I have to say that the real value of public art, of street art, is not necessarily the message of that piece, it’s just the fact that it gets people to stop brooding and to take in something that might be inspirational, or at least will make them think. But it takes them out of their brooding thoughts. Life is tough, everyone struggles.
No matter where you are in the system, in the hierarchy, no matter where you are, what age, everyone is struggling with challenges for everyone. And we walk around between places and we think about these things that are challenging us, we think at the moment that they’re messing up our lives, they’re too hard to deal with. We brood. We think about negative thoughts. We don’t just walk around thinking inspirational thoughts all the time as human beings, and that’s where public art comes in.
We don’t have to have all these blank spaces, all these blank walls staring back at us. You know, to me, the blank walls say, “Look, this is how much the government cares about you. They offer you nothing to look at, not even a design.” So that’s why I think government should embrace public art. It’s a way for artists and government and people to come to a place, to an experience, which is good for all.
And even if it’s a radical political message, which I don’t do- My political messages aren’t radical! They’re well-established. (laughs) Even if it is, even if it’s something that the first time that you see it, it shocks you, just the same. It gives you something to think about. It fills your mind with color, with creativity, you know? And more than anything to me, it says “Someone Cares.”
I was lucky when I was a teenager to come up here to teach at Windham College, at Marlboro College, in a little town that was nothin’ but a podunk ski-town, because we used to have two ski areas, became a place which started to have a lot of music, theater, and less-so, but some art also. So I happened to be lucky enough to be right at that time when Brattleboro was having an Arts Renaissance. And I was a kid that grew up during it, and my mom was a piano teacher who was involved with the arts, so I just was so lucky.
And I’m an artist made by Brattleboro.
Yes, the things that were here made me. I went beyond it. I went and got higher education, higher instruction, and I went beyond that, and I went to the center of the art world, and I worked and competed with some of the most motivated and talented artists in that place, on that level. And I did come back here to have my kids. And I bring all that back with me, and I really am a product of the town.
But there are so few natives around this town now. You know, I don’t know if people can really appreciate that, that this town made artists and musicians. Because of who came here at a certain time and what happened. I’m so lucky to have been born who I was when I was. And it’s not because- I mean my mom was very supportive, but my father was one of these 1950’s guys in a leather jacket that wanted to get married, make money, have some kids. And you know, when one of his kids was an artist, it was like “Oh My God, I never wanted this to happen!”
So, I was just lucky that these people happened to be here. And when my father wanted me to go to a military academy, these people said, “He should go to an art school.” So I lucked out. That’s why it’s so important to me that art and mentorship get to kids that might not get it normally. And I see public art, street art, as being a big part of that. So I’m not a teacher, but I am bringing art to potential artists, and everyone else who wants to enjoy it along the way. But really, when you come down to it, if you had a great teacher, you feel a responsibility to pass something on, so you have to find a way to do it, and this has been my way. And I’ve seen a lot of stuff that’s inspired by the stuff I’ve done outdoors.
AM- How’s that feel?
SB- It feels good, it feels great! A couple less walls for me to paint. (laughs)
AM- I’m just gonna ask one more question. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
SB- You know what they told us at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design)? They said, “Pursue you own vision. Don’t do what’s trendy or popular. Pursue your vision, and one day the art world will come around to you.” And I go by that. The thing that makes art strong, really strong of course, is an original vision.
There’s a popular saying that says there’s two ways to go in art: You can do something that people have done before but do it in a new way. Or you can do something that no one has done before but do it in all the ways that people have done things before. So, I kinda do both. But I think that invention is what’s really exciting in art.
I had a friend at one point, we were hanging out at the beach, and she invented a game for us to play. You know how the water goes up and comes down, well the game was to run next to the tide, run next to the surf, as close as possible without getting wet. Well you just cant do it. You get wet! You keep just making a few mistakes, and it jumps up when you’re not expecting, but that’s an exciting place to be. So that’s where I like to be in my art. She called the game, “Living Dangerously.”
AM- Wow, awesome, beautiful, thank you! I could ask you questions for days, and I’m sure you could talk for days!
SB- Yeah, I can!