As she sees it
By Aaren Madden, November 2014
Artist Blythe Scott makes the familiar new again with personal impressions of place.
The visual communication of place is something anyone interested in the recording of the rural or urban landscape grapples with. Technical precision and verisimilitude are oft-sought goals, but conveying a personal perception of place has different criteria. Not just the trees or the fields or the street scenes, but the way the singular quality of light, the physical surroundings, and the particular energy inherent in any place makes the pulse either quicken to match its pace, or slow in contemplation.
This is the facet of painting that is of interest to Blythe Scott. “Generally I get quite excited in an urban environment,” says Scott in her Scottish brogue. “That is why my palette is quite heightened, always using brighter colours that actually exist there. I take elements as a reference, but then I crank them up tenfold. If a building is tending to the left or to the right, or there is a curve in a road, a sense of whoosh, as I call it, I tend to exaggerate that. Even though the buildings themselves are static, cities as a whole are very dynamic. I want that sense of movement, excitement, dynamism,” she explains. “What I hope to convey is, ‘this is how I felt’—not how you might feel—but this is how I felt in this place, at this moment.”
Scott is fairly new to Victoria; she moved here from Glasgow in 2012, after having lived here temporarily seven years ago with her husband and young sons (now nine and eleven). It was crucial to her to capture the vividness of first impressions in her mixed media works on canvas or board. “I knew that even after a year, I would stop seeing things,” she relates, “or I would see them as being everyday.”
Scott has travelled, lived in, and painted many cities, and revels in those initial impacts. “When you put yourself into a new context, all the mundane things become exciting or interesting,” she says. “You might not prefer them, they might not be better, but it’s at least visually stimulating. I love having my eyes opened like that.”
In Victoria, one thing that stood out immediately for Scott was the urban colour. Historically, Glasgow is built predominantly of either red or blond sandstone from local quarries, whereas Victoria features not only different styles of architecture—less ornate than the Victorian and Georgian buildings from her home—but also buildings bathed in delicious colour. “You have no idea what a kick I get out of the fact that you are allowed to paint your buildings wild colours,” she enthuses, loving “the crazy heritage combinations. I have spent the last 20 years exaggerating colour or inventing colour where it didn’t exist to try and convey an atmosphere. And then I go and stand on Johnson Street and there is all this colour!”
Due to the vivid colour (urban design bylaws prevent it in Glasgow), combined with the relative intensity and frequency of sunshine, Scott says, “everything here is quite dazzling to me.” In her mixed media triptych “LoJo Unfolded,” that sense emerges when colours that are already lively burst into neon shades on the canvas. “I just couldn’t find a yellow yellow enough,” smiles Scott.
That the visual impact of a place is so important to Scott stems from an early life immersed in aesthetic considerations. She was born in 1969 and attended the esteemed Glasgow School of Art, arriving by train every day and walking the mile to the school “past some of the loveliest architecture in the whole city.” Her awareness of her rich surroundings was nurtured at home: both of her parents were art teachers, and her father was also a violin maker. “Every mealtime, even at breakfast, we were just talking about aesthetics,” she recalls.
It may not have been ideal for the casually doodling child—“they tended to challenge every mark. I think things were more under scrutiny than they would [normally] be. That was irritating at the time,” she laughs, “but now, I am so grateful for that, because that was also reinforced by my fabulous art teacher. A lot of what was said during those years has really stayed. I hear those voices in my head today.”
She refers to a secondary school art teacher who reiterated the importance of a strong foundation in drawing, but added to that an introduction to a vast array of materials, processes and techniques. With a rigorous foundation, one gains the ability to push boundaries. It has allowed Scott to explore with multimedia and remain confident in the robustness of materials.
“Anything that can make a mark, I think it’s a legitimate tool,” says Scott, who shops for materials equally at art supply and home building supply stores. “As long as I know it is going to work technically, I can combine it. So it could be a lot of materials that disrupt the surface, first of all, because texture is so important to me.” The viewer might see the texture of wallpaper, buttons, sand, modeling paste, or “anything from the kitchen cupboard thrown in and mixed,” she says. She may use chopsticks dipped in ink instead of a brush. Any material that will hold up and work best to capture the overall effect she is going for is fair game. Sometimes, the reverse is true: a previous canvas that she is overpainting with a landscape is informing the new work based on the existing collage.
Either way, Scott seeks to communicate the essence of a place as she sees it. For Victoria, it has to do with that dazzle. In “All Aflutter,” the rippling flags on the sailboats in the Inner Harbour and brisk pink of the legislature in the background call up the salty breeze. It’s joyous, and as in the Johnson Street scene, feels vibrant and alive even though Scott seldom paints people into her scenes.
In the paintings she’s working on now for a solo show at couch* Gallery in January, Scott revisits Scotland. The series will, aptly, be called “A Different Light.” Scott will bring the vividness of Victoria to scenes in Scotland to create something entirely new again. “It is as if I am dipping my paintbrush into Canada and then painting Scotland with it,” she says.
In the process, Scott once again brings fresh eyes and a completely unique perspective to a familiar place. And for viewers who seek new perspectives or for whom their home city has become obscured by familiarity, these heightened and personal impressions are an opportunity and a gift.
Blythe Scott’s paintings are principally available at couch* Gallery, 1010 Broad Street, with a solo show planned there for January. 778-432-4777, www.couchartgallery.com.Â
Aaren Madden thinks Michael Williams would be delighted that his legacy of heritage restoration in Old Town continues to inspire artists.