Scott Fife interviewed by Carol Bolt

  Scott Fife’s exhibit, Northwest Perspectives at the Tacoma Art Museum was a 25 year survey of this talented, Northwest sculptor’s work. Scott has a degree in Architecture and Fine Arts, from University of Idaho and the Minneapolis School of Art & Design respectively. Carol Bolt interviewed Scott at a café on 10/23/04, where they talked about his Art, Architecture and Leroy, the puppy. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Carol Bolt: What do you see as connections between your studio work and being an architect?

Scott Fife: Although, I am trained as an architect, studio art is my focus. So in answer to the question, essentially it's the structure the pieces are built around, it could be seen as framing especially in the furniture pieces. Also the subject matter, again especially the furniture, I was looking for archetypes.

CB: What archetypes were you looking for?

SF: An anthropomorphic shaping, especially with the chairs.

CB: In the sculpture “Green Chair”, you have attached an image of a staircase to the back, is that part of that shaping?

SF: Yes, it becomes about treating the whole piece, it was to ensure that it got seen completely 3-dimensionally. In that case, the symbolism. This insular world becoming even more so by taking this path down into the piece. The whole "Nude Descending a Staircase" (M.Duchamp) thing- it's not a clue that most might pick up on but it was amusing for me.

CB: Would you talk about your decision to use the gloves and clothes as signifiers? Also, your choice of one-ness, particularly in what is usually paired, like the hand and the foot.

SF: It's ownership, a gesture, the arm akimbo- kind of defiant. I wanted there to be a history. Those articles of clothing belonged to someone- they are personalized with the glove. The one-ness [is to] spotlight or focus that one part.

CB: Like a vignette or a moment stopped in time?

SF: Yes, like how we see a movie; a hand reaching across the screen, we know there's a body attached but now the hand has other properties too- it's not as if the other doesn't exist. There is an undeniable macabreness about it, but it's a finished cast icon and not just some mystery of a severed foot.

CB: You've chosen to stop the time in such a way that you focus the viewer's attention to ask more questions: why the right foot or...

SF: Exactly. An audience is trying to put it all together- they bring their own experiences and prejudices. And here they can run wild with it, it's rich with symbolism- it's very allowing, I want them to be very meandering in that way- from the Walt Disney dancing cartoon skeletons thing to an academic study of a horse’s anatomy. (“Horse Skeleton” & “Horse Skeleton
with Nude”)

CB: The museum's description in the gallery suggests Pop Art as an influence would you talk more about that?

SF: Part of it was just the time period when I was growing up, that was what I saw- the advertising world, the large format magazines, all of that came into play as Pop Art. Other than historic pieces- it was some of the first art I saw. It was so pervasive, it found its way into magazines, game shows and tv sets.

CB: Was there a piece that has stuck with you over time?

SF: Actually I was working in a student gallery at Cranbrook and I was cleaning an Andy Warhol silkscreen of flowers and I damaged the piece- I think it was an FTD show, it amused me in a sense that all of the work was seen of as being cool and irreverent,... and there I had scrubbed a part of the petal off....

CB: Your show at the Tacoma Art Museum is part of a series of solo shows called "Northwest Perspectives", in what way does the Northwest affect your perspective? How do you see yourself within the context of "an artist of the Northwest"?

SF: Well, certainly there is the physical, the landscape, that sense of regionalism, that is a part of the work, although there is work from Berlin and from Brooklyn, I don't know if I brought the NW to it- a good part of it was built in the west and there are ideas about the west. "Green Chair" and "Hand Axe, Firewood, Baby Ben Clock on Rug" could be identified as Northwestern from the color to the look of being worn and used, it does suggest a cabin-like life- that aspect could be quite literal but it's about the living here, not being preoccupied with the idea of what the NW is about. That piece is about the melancholy of that time, the fire was extinguished, I was leaving for Berlin.

CB: You have lived and worked in many places- internationally and nationally, what are things that you bring back with you from the experience of traveling?

SF: Well, a remarkable overlap that keeps happening- I am still drawing on that, it takes time to digest- “Red Chair” comes right out of Berlin but it was done in Brooklyn- it was connected to the vivid color of the new expressionists, the wild painters. It's as if we're carrying that past with us; adjusting as we go. The work that I was doing there was seen as exotic because it wasn't about what was going on there- which made it much more visible [as it was] out of context.

CB: In visiting a city, do you look at architecture or studio art first?

SF: That's a good question- the architecture from an aerial view is certainly the first thing I notice, then the being surrounded by it - seeing the power that it can have over the people [and] how it projects into the public's realm. With some knowledge of a location's history, I remember the photographs from art history books; now I'm looking to see “in the real”. Maybe it's much stronger than I ever thought it could be- [it can also be] all about the anticipation.

CB: If you were going to give someone a tour of the NW -what would you take them to see?

SF: Of course, there's the new library downtown, the Smith Tower, there's a lot of modernist buildings in the Eastlake neighborhood, that's an interesting pocket. It still retains a sense of the water industry and its commerce. Then there's the harbor itself- the container court, the big boxes, the colors, the cranes, are very sculptural- the names, the port- the exchanging of goods. It makes this place so vital. The Space Needle may be old-hat but it still has significance.

CB: Why did you choose Mies van der Rohe as the architect to create a bust of?

SF: The physical visual of his face - but he was an incredibly important person- the father of Modernism- he had such a huge impact on architecture- coined the term "less is more"- maybe it was a tongue-in-cheek statement… he knew how that could be rearranged. He left Berlin to come here- he wasn't just an Exile, his work became important as well. Initially though, the draw was his face.

CB: And with the juxtaposition of Picasso, who has the added element of the little horns?

SF: With the scale as well, Picasso is smaller, that's funny too. He is mischeivous, obviously a genius- the idea of these two egos side by side- it's not to put Picasso in a lesser position, that he is sprouting these little horns- the horns go all the way back to the Renaissance where they suggested: light, genius, gifted, knowledge- all of that. It gives him a special magicalness; suggesting his own identification with image of the goat. It's these bigger than life people in relationship- they were essentially contemporaries, although Picasso wasn't an Exile.

CB: But they both represented a challenge to that idea of "tradition" and what does it mean to push passed the assumptions of the time and place?

SF: Yes, they were shapers of the 20th century.

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