Visual Arts Interview: Doing Ad-Lib Art — Richard Thomas Scott Kicks Off “30 Paintings in 30 Days”

Artist Richard Thomas Scott is currently working on his new Kickstarter project, “30 Paintings in 30 Days.” Sponsors pitch him inspirations (“Challenge me to paint something I’ve never done before!”) and he interprets them on canvas.

By Renée Caouette


Richard Thomas Scott began his artistic career at the University of Georgia, and then continued his education at the Academy of Art in New York City. Scott has worked between NY and Paris while studying under Odd Nerdrum in Norway and France. Scott also dabbles in writing. The Nerdrum School is his latest co-authored book. His work has been exhibited at Le Grand Palais in Paris, Palazzo Cini in Venice, the Museum of New Art in Detroit. Scott’s paintings are also part of collections worldwide, including those of the former British Arts Minister Alan Howarth of Newport, Prince Morad El Hattab, and Dr. Richard Epes, a prominent fancier of Andrew Wyeth. Scott’s work has been auctioned at Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Company.

Most of Scott’s work is representational, featuring modern interpretations of figures, landscapes, and interiors. One can see influences from a variety of artists such as Rembrandt, Hammershoi, Vermeer, Goya, Andrew Wyeth, and John Singer Sargent.

Scott currently has an ingenious new Kickstarter project, “30 Paintings in 30 Days” up and running. The idea is to give people an opportunity to buy his paintings for a third of the price he would normally sell them for. Sponsors pitch him inspirations (Challenge me to paint something I’ve never done before!) and he interprets them on canvas.

I spoke to Scott at his studio in Lakeville, Connecticut about his background, his current Kickstarter project, and his forthcoming atelier.

ArtsFuse: Let’s start from the beginning. What is your first memory of painting? When were you introduced to art?

Richard T Scott: The first memory I had of wanting to be a painter was at my grandparents house in Alabama. I saw a painting at their house. I cannot remember who it was now, but it looked like one of Picasso’s toreadors. I remember being struck by the patterns, the color, and the expressive quality of the line: the powerful sunset orange of the toreador’s pants, like the checkered pants of a harlequin. I would just stand in front of it for hours. My family probably thought I was autistic because, in retrospect, it is a very strange thing to do! They also had paintings of cityscapes, a lot of post-impressionist works, and that is probably why most of my work in the beginning started out more abstract expressionist, with a bit of post-impressionist. After that I became fixated on painting. I used to draw in class instead of listening to the teachers! Still, I did not think painting was a plausible career for me until I was in college at the University of Georgia.

Until university I had never been exposed to a variety of real paintings. I had never seen masterworks in person because there was no opportunity for exposure where I was from. I had never even been to a museum! The Hyde Museum in Atlanta does not really have much … so this is probably why I did not get into realist and representational art until later in my career.

AF: Was there an “ah-ha!” moment for you when it came to pursuing painting as a full time career?

Richard Thomas Scott Photo: Rene

Richard Thomas Scott — he thinks great art should be accessible to everybody. Photo: Renée Caouette.

Scott: My first moment of clarity was when I was in high school. I had always dabbled in the arts; I was in theatre, I had a band, I wrote poetry. But I had no idea what I was going to do for college. I had this idea I would pursue the graphic arts to be practical and make money …

On the last day of school my senior year, there was a school shooting: the shooter’s name was T.J. Solomon. I was in the room, standing beside my friends, and he pulled out a 22 and some smaller gun, I don’t really know guns, but it looked like a rifle and some sort of smaller firearm. Before I saw him, I heard some pops, like firecrackers. I thought it was some sort of senior prank, because you know, that is common. I turned around, and I saw an expression on my friend’s face. I did not really think anything concrete in that moment — it was not a cognitive process — but I somehow knew that I was not going to do anything other than painting. It was if all the previous impulses about being practical had been erased. I guess somehow I understood that I could die at that moment. A girl 10 feet away from me was shot, but I was not. Seeing the fragility of life solidified what I wanted to do in my life. I stopped everything else and pursued painting.

AF: What was the journey like becoming an independent, or should I say self-employed, artist?

Scott: Well, in college I tried to sell my work, in coffee shops.. I think the first year I sold something was 2000. It was for $200 (laughs). I was overjoyed, because at that time in Athens, Georgia $200 was my rent for a month. I was also working for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and Wal-Mart before that. Then I discovered classes taught by Margaret Morrison and Joseph Norman at the University of Georgia in figure drawing. And I thought, oh my God, the ethereal atmosphere, it was amazing. I felt like I was in a chapel. It was bizarre, but I just fell in love with figure painting at that moment. So, after that, I started teaching at a local artists guild. Which actually did not go that well (laughs), because sometimes I ended up teaching my peers, which was weird because I was younger than some of them. Many of them were not thrilled.

After that I went to the New York Academy of Art for grad school, and then I worked for Jeff Koons for a while. It was not really until I was living at Odd Nerdrum’s house in Maison Lafitte, France, that I was able to stand on my own feet and live off of my work. Being there for three years was an incredible opportunity: living there, rent-free, surrounded by masterpieces, it was a great place to work! Shortly after I started showing my work at L’Oeil du Prince gallery in Paris. That is how it started; it is still rocky (laughs).

AF: What are the most memorable responses you have had to your work?

Scott: The thing that strikes me the most is my first exhibition in Paris. Before that I had shown many times in New York. Even after I had studied with Odd Nerdrum the first time, back in in 2010, I flew back over to New York to be a part of the “Great Nude Invitational,” which paired me with Odd and Vincent Desiderio. It was a pretty big show. But it was a flop. A lot of people showed up, but no one bought anything. One of my favorite pieces in the show, “What Remains,” is also one of my favorite pieces of what I have done. It is staged in Odd’s red dining room. It was my best piece in that show. When I bought this piece back to France and I had my first solo exhibition in Paris, people came up to me crying! And I did not know how to take that! Because, you know, in New York it is like, Oh yeah … Well, who are you? What is this? You are not treated with respect. The French culture is so appreciative of artists. I had over half a dozen people come up to me and exclaim, ‘Oh my goodness thank you so much for bringing this to us! Thank you for showing us! You know, we do not have anything like this in France, the classical traditions are dead, and everything is so modern now!’

People were so incredibly emotional, and I was just overwhelmed by that. After that I decided I wanted to stay here! (laughs). Unfortunately I couldn’t …

Richard Thomas Scott's easel. Photo: Rene

Richard Thomas Scott’s easel. Photo: Rene Caouette.

AF: Let’s talk about what you are working on now. What are your current projects?

Scott: I am really excited about this Kickstarter project, “30 Paintings in 30 Days.” I am a little bit behind! (laughs). But that’s ok, because it is a goal, it is a project. I knew from the beginning that the creative process is something you can not force. You know some days you show up and the muse shows up, and some days you’ve got your coffee and your painting, and nothing happens! So it is really hard to do that. But I really feel like I am getting my stride as it goes along.

AF: What is “30 Paintings in 30 Days” all about?

Scott: The premise of the project is that the sponsors pitch an idea, and I have to take the idea and interpret it, run with it, and see where that goes. It is really interesting because it is takes the modern idea of artistic production and turns it on its head. It is more like the way artists worked in the Renaissance or Baroque period. A lot of times the paintings they produced were from themes given to them by their benefactors.

AF: A creative idea for a project! What is the part that is most exciting for you about it, or that you like the most so far?

Scott: The other part of this project that I am really excited about is that it is my response to Damien Hirst’s $1,000 scarves. Here you have an incredible elitism in the art world: fine art is only supposed to be for the top of the top, for those who can afford it. And the artists play along with the absolutely crazy prices the tip top demand. I think that great art should be accessible to everybody; that is why we have museums, museums are so phenomenal! By doing this project I am making my artwork, which would otherwise not be available to people, available. I am not doing sketches of works. I am making actual finished paintings, keeping the projects small scale so that I can pull them off.

AF: After this project is over what is next?

Scott: I am really excited because I am starting my own teaching atelier here. I taught at the Lime Academy last year, and I really enjoyed it. I love learning from the students as well, figuring out how to explain things that you do intuitively. I had a student ask me, ‘why are you dipping your brush? I noticed you are dipping your brush in your medium and then wiping it off in between each brushstroke.’ And I thought, why do I do that? (laughs). After a while I figured out I do it in order to control the viscosity, so I can control the brushstroke and how much medium goes in the paint. The purpose of my atelier is to give opportunities to students that I never had when I was young. When I was a teenager I did a lot of wandering around, I did not have access to a private classical atelier — and it ended up that that is the kind of experience I really needed. So I did not have a serious exposure to art history; I feel that it made my artistic development a longer road than it might necessarily have had to have been.

AF: What kind of training will you be doing at your atelier? What kinds of students will you have, and what do you want them to learn?

Scott: I want to focus on students between the ages of 14-18. I will take older students too, who are passionate, but optimally I would like to teach between 4 to 6 students at a time. The goal is to cultivate their skills and visions, not impose my vision on my students. Also, to help them get into a good art school, if that is what their goal is.

Essentially, I am interested in mentoring. I feel that what I have to offer is more than what can be found at a traditional classical atelier or in the academy. In addition to what one might learn at an atelier or an academy, we’ll be able to talk about the aesthetic philosophy behind the work and why we make certain decisions and how that intent is communicated through the technical narrative. To examine the relationships of values and shapes and forms. I will do more than offer a Panofskian reading of direct painting and symbolism, but I will explore how the brushstrokes convey a philosophy. And composition! Academies do not go into sufficient depth about these issues. I want to provide holistic training, the creation of a body of work. I also want to help students navigate professionally so that they can choose the right training and education, and then eventually have organized exhibitions and become practicing artists.

A Richard Thomas Scott landscape. Photo: Rene

A Richard Thomas Scott landscape. Photo: Renée Caouette.

AF: You have lived in a number of different places, how did you end up starting an atelier in Lakeville, Connecticut?

Scott: Ah, how did I end up in the middle of nowhere? (laughs). Well, my ex-wife. We were coming back from Paris and we did not want to live in New York anymore. It is too expensive, and it is really hard for me to focus on my work given the pace of life there. All of my friends were calling and saying, ‘Hey want to come out for a beer!?’ And, before you know it, you do not have any work done. Plus, the cost of rent is so high that I would not have the flexibility and freedom to afford a beautiful space like this. I mean Jesus! (laughs). No seriously, I mean Jesus! This is a great studio!

So we were thinking about locating in the Hudson Valley. We were driving around in May, just when everything was blooming and I remember coming around the crest of the hill and thinking, Oh my God, am I dead? This is absolutely stunning: it was like driving into a George Inness painting! It is so beautiful. So we settled in the town of Millerton, which is about 10 minutes away [from where I am living now]. Then our marriage broke apart, but I had already made some really good connections here so I decided to stay in the area. It was a good spot to be in to make my work, and I can easily be in New York in a little over 2 hours by taking the Metro North line.

AF: 100 years from now, when someone sees your work, what would you want them to say about it?

Scott: Wow, that is a cool question! Well, let’s see. I would want them to say that my work remains relevant, and that it still makes an impact. Emotionally of course, but also that it has universal significance. I hope that it is still has relevance. I hope it still has relevance now! My paintings touch on elemental human desires and emotions: greed, lust, anger, honor. So I hope that it is still has resonance for the same reasons that we continue to read Shakespeare, that my work still has something powerful to say about the nature of human interaction and psychology.

Renée Caouette is a writer, artist, and emerging art historian living between New York City and Paris, France. Her latest artistic collaboration with Dr. Ali Rahnema will be published in his forthcoming book, Thugs, Turn-coats, Soldiers, Spooks: Anatomy of Overthrowing Mosaddeq in Four Days. Renée is currently finishing her master’s degree at the Academy of Art University

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