Contributed by Grant Wahlquist / Scooter LaForge is a painter who lives and works in New York City. His current exhibition at Theodore:Art, “Everything is Going to be OK,” features sculptures, works on canvas, and garments incorporating painting. I recently spoke with Scooter regarding the show, his artistic forebears, and his process in the studio.
Grant Wahlquist: A lot of people have written about the way your work intersects with fashion or the history of nightlife, so I thought we could explore what you do more explicitly from the standpoint of the history of painting. You’ve been drawing portraits of visitors to Theodore:Art on Sunday afternoons. I’m curious—do you ever sketch out paintings on paper before you make them?
Scooter LaForge: I generally do start from drawings, and I keep a sketch book. I draw almost every day.
GW: Do you paint from photographs, life, or memory?
SLF: It depends on what I’m making. If it’s a portrait, I start by looking at a photograph on the iPhone. But even other sorts of work I make begin with photos. I’ll assemble a group of photos, display them, and develop a basic idea for the work—but after that the subconscious takes over. Intuition is an important part of all of my work. I let things develop through the sporadic, subconscious mind. The work ends up being very contingent on how I feel at any particular moment in time.
GW: You work in a variety of formats—works on canvas, sculpture, garments, found objects—though painting is usually involved in some capacity. When you have an idea for a painting, do you seek out a particular format, or is it more improvised than that?
SLF: Usually when I paint on garments or found objects, the reason I love painting on them, is it because it changes the form of the paint. The work turns into a movable sculpture that is almost Cubist. For example, when I painted on the wedding dress that’s in the show at Theodore:Art, the client bought the dress, and then I painted on the faces that cover it. I loved the way everything shifted when she moved in it. Painting on garments changes the form of the images. Again, it becomes like a Cubist sculpture in which everything is distorted. For works on canvas that incorporate objects, my studio is filled with objects. Most of them have been sent to me by people from all over the world. I get stuff in the mail from people who like my work, and I keep them all in a pile in the studio. I’ll start a painting, and then, almost like a Rauschenberg combine, I’ll sew on a piece of fabric, or screw in a toy gun, or whatever I think looks good at that particular moment in time. Often, if someone is visiting me in the studio, I’ll ask them their opinion, whether a particular piece is working, so a lot of the time works have the hands of my friends in them.
GW: With so many different things in your studio, how do you maintain a sense of order works for you?
SLF: I have folders of reference photos that I’ve used for the past twenty years, and I keep them filed in boxes. Then, I have the pile of toys, toy guns, fabric, that fill a corner. It’s just a big mountain of junk, though it reminds me of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres candy pile. The studio is really divided into sections—sewing machine, painting section, and, and the pile of objects.
GW: Do you keep a regular schedule in the studio? Do you go every day?
SLF: I definitely go to the studio every day. Usually I have people who have asked me to make them t-shirts. It’s nice that I can work on them and then, if I get bored, shift over to my painting area, or make sketches. I can move back and forth between the three things. I also have a lot of visitors—I like having people around to keep me company. I have an open door policy, and people can just drop by. I’ll work while they visit, or sometimes they come and work alongside me. I also listen to music constantly, everything from Philip Glass, to 70s rock, to pop, to rap. It depends on the mood that I’m in. I have tons of CDs, but I don’t have WiFi in the studio because I don’t want to get distracted. The computer is really distracting. But music is a constant in my painting.
GW: With a process that’s so intuitive, I’m curious if you ever throw work away.
SLF: I throw paintings away a lot. If I’m not happy with a painting, I destroy it. But that’s part of having a process that’s experimental. I like taking risks, and sometimes they don’t work out. At one point, I started seeing some discarded works turn up in thrift stores, so now I make sure to really cut up and destroy the works I choose to get rid of.
GW: You work in both oils and acrylics. Is there anything in particular that pushes you to work with one or the other?
SLF: It’s really about color. Ninety percent of the time, I work in oils, but sometimes I want a really bright pop of color, something florescent, and you can really only find those colors in acrylics. Though I sometimes am in the mood to use really primary colors right out of the tube (in which case I may also not use a brush at all), I tend to mix my own colors.
GW: There is something really joyful, or at least hopeful, about your work—your show at Theodore:Art is even called “Everything is Going to be OK.” I’m curious whether there are particular paintings you remember making that you felt were difficult, or a real struggle to make.
SLF: A lot of my other work is actually somewhat dark, and I remember that certain paintings were really difficult to make. I once made a painting of a suicide note from when I was feeling suicidal about 15 years ago. Another time I made a painting of a murder that happened across the street from my studio. I also remember that I once saw a severed hand literally right in front of my studio, and used it in a painting. “Everything is Going to be OK” actually came from the amount of anxiety I’ve been feeling over the past few months about the state of our country. I made the show to make me feel better, almost as a kind of therapy. I wanted to use bright colors and have a happy show.
GW: Are there painters you remember having an impact on you when you were young?
SLF: My favorite artists when I was a kid were van Gogh, Haring, and Picasso. I grew up in a small town, and my mom had a van Gogh book—it was what I could get my hands on. When I got into high school, I really loved Philip Guston, and then got into Rothko. I remember my mother buying me the Warhol Diaries, which really opened my eyes to recent art history. Then, when I moved to New York, my interests opened up. I was looking at Baselitz, Picabia, all sorts of things. I go to a lot of museums, and I like looking at all sorts of references—Roman art, Native American art, African art, Greek art—I like to blend all these things together. When I feel like I need a “push” to make a painting, or help pushing one along, I pull from my image library and think, “This really needs this aspect of this Greek vase, or this Roman fresco.” I’ve painted since I was six-years-old, I look at a lot of paintings and have thousands of images stored in my head. I still really love Haring and the formula of his career. He made art accessible to everyone. But since I moved to New York, everything has really expanded.
GW: Are there particular painters you find yourself looking at regularly now? Or any recent shows that really stood out?
SLF: Right now, if I really need to get inspired, I’ll go uptown and look at Kokoschka’s portraits. I also really love Soutine. Both of them just get me going. Another show that really drove me crazy was the Sterling Ruby show that was at Gagosian. They were spray paint on canvas with cardboard glued on—they were sort of like trash, but they seemed like modern day Rothkos to me.
GW: We spoke a bit earlier about collaboration. One of the things I really like is how openly you credit your collaborators, people like Gazelle, who styled “Everything is Going to be OK,” or Faye Scott-Farrington, with whom you made a Candy Pharmacy. If you could collaborate with anyone living or dead, who you haven’t worked with before, who would it be?
SLF: Painting-wise it would be Baselitz. There were these black paintings that were at Gagosian, they were so shadowy and subtle. I would have loved to just go in there paint on top of them. That would be amazing.
GW: What direction are you going in after “Everything is Going to be OK”?
SLF: It’s interesting that you asked me about the colors and tone of the current show, because the next show I’m making, which will be at Howl Happening in November, is going to essentially be black paintings. It’s almost going to be the polar opposite of what’s up right now. It’s very much inspired by Kokoschka and Soutine. I’ve always had it in my head that the next step is to go in a dark direction.
“Scooter LaForge: Everything is going to be OK,” Theodore:Art, Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through April 30, 2017.