Scott Fraser:
Hyperreal Still Lifes that Move

As part of a prestigious traveling exhibit on still life painting, Scott Fraser’s work keeps him in motion.

Scott Fraser
Vanitas in White
As part of a prestigious traveling exhibit on still life painting, Scott Fraser’s work keeps him in motion.

As part of a prestigious traveling exhibit on still life painting, Scott Fraser’s work keeps him in motion.

Scott Fraser shrugs off the word "prodigy," but he displays in his studio a framed watercolor of roses he painted at age three.

"I remember painting those roses," said Fraser, based in Longmont, Colorado.

Fraser falls into the category of contemporary realists and trompe l'oeil artists, and more than twenty-five museums across the nation include Fraser's luminous, classical yet quirky still life paintings in their permanent collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum. He was part of a prestigious national traveling exhibition in 2018 titled Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting: The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection. And Schiffer Publishing, located in Pennsylvania, recently released a no-expense-spared coffee table book titled Scott Fraser: Selected Works.

Nonetheless, the artist ducks the adjective "gifted," too.

Scott Fraser hyperreal painting Detail from Vanitas in White
Scott Fraser

Vanitas in White (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting of Jiffy Pop on a scale
Scott Fraser

Jiffy Pop

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail from Jiffy Pop
Scott Fraser

Jiffy Pop (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting Exodus
Scott Fraser

Exodus

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail of the drawing for Exodus
Scott Fraser

Detail of drawing for Exodus

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail of Exodus
Scott Fraser

Exodus (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting Golden Mean in Red
Scott Fraser

Golden Mean in Red

Scott Fraser realism Drawing for Golden Mean in Red
Scott Fraser

Drawing for Golden Mean in Red

Scott Fraser realism painting Kiss of the Golden Mean
Scott Fraser

Kiss of the Golden Mean

Scott Fraser realism painting Catenary Curve
Scott Fraser

Catenary Curve

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail of Catenary Curve
Scott Fraser

Catenary Curve (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting Lemon Fall
Scott Fraser

Lemon Fall

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail of Lemon Fall
Scott Fraser

Lemon Fall (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting Lemon Meringue
Scott Fraser

Lemon Meringue

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail of Vanitas
Scott Fraser

Vanitas (detail)

Black and White
Scott Fraser

Black and White

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail of Black and White
Scott Fraser

Black and White (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting Mount Desert Spiral
Scott Fraser

Mount Desert Spiral

Scott Fraser realism drawing Study of Mount Desert Spiral
Scott Fraser

Study of Mount Desert Spiral

Detail of Mount Desert Spiral
Scott Fraser

Mount Desert Spiral (detail)

Scott Fraser

Fish Eye by Scott Fraser

“He’s not a surrealist and not a realist. He’s Scott Fraser.”

Timothy Standring, Gates Family Foundation Curator of Painting and Sculpture

"I don't think of myself as gifted," said Fraser.

Yet, without a doubt, he is. Fraser's mastery of lifelike detail is such that one might be tempted to take a fingernail to a piece of tape on a painting, for example, to see whether the tape is real or rendered in oil.

The Gates Family Foundation Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Denver Art Museum, Timothy Standring has kept an eye on Fraser's paintings for the past twenty years. He also authored an essay in Fraser's book.

“I’ve marveled at his ability to tell visual stories and to create visual conundrums with such incredible precision and clarity,” Standring said. “He’s a cut above.”

Fraser’s visual stories include variations on themes. Subject matter ranges from iconic objects such as Hershey kisses and goldfish crackers, rubber ducks, smoke bombs, matchsticks, skulls, butterflies, seashells.

But Fraser’s paintings depict a strange world. Sheet music gets folded into paper airplanes. Arrows pierce battered running shoes. Golf tees hold eyeballs. Dead frogs are served on saltines. Bandaids mend pears. A watermelon wears a pineapple crown. And citrus fruits dangle spiraling peels. 

“They’re visual rebuses, puzzling. You wonder, ‘What mind came up with this?’ But even though his story is a riddle difficult to understand completely, he doesn’t make it ambiguous. The poetry he’s communicating is quite clear,” Standring said. "He's not a surrealist and not a realist. He's Scott Fraser."

"Everything rests on drawing skill. Without it, my work wouldn't come off as well," said Fraser, who executes numerous sketches before each painting.

Fraser begins working on exhibitions as far ahead as possible, including for shows at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco, which has represented him for more than twenty years.

"I work way out," Fraser said, referring to his schedule.

Fraser has honed his talent for forty years, driven by subject matter and composition.

At the time of the interview, Fraser was working on a commission. A longtime collector approached Fraser and Daniel Sprick—Fraser's friend and painting peer—to create still-lifes with wine, chocolate, and a famous landscape.

Scott Fraser

Vanitas by Scott Fraser

“I’m an opacity painter, so I start with the paint thick, then knock it down. There’s a tooth to the paintings, a texture, and decision-making in the marks I make. As a painter that's what I like to see.”

Scott Fraser

Sprick said of Fraser, "We have shared information and points-of-view for about thirty-five years now, agreeing and disagreeing vigorously, staunch allies with shared goals on separate paths. For each of us, genuine development is a lifetime work-in-progress. His new book is a stunning testimony to his relentless pursuit of quality and commitment to a singular vision."

One of the book's distinguishing visual features is full-page photographs of painting details.

"That's something that is appealing to other artists," said Fraser, who began working on the book five years ago.

"The details in the book reveal a lot of paint build-up. I'm an opacity painter, so I start with the paint thick, then knock it down. There's a tooth to the paintings, a texture, and decision-making in the marks I make. As a painter that's what I like to see," said Fraser.

"His attention to detail sets him apart," said Chris Quidley of Quidley and Company. Quidley has represented Fraser since 2013 at his galleries along the eastern seaboard: Boston, Nantucket, Westport, CT, and Naples, FL.

"I'm always completely blown away and enamored with every single piece we get. There's a satirical, sophisticated humor, not simple or obvious, said Quidley. "Scott uses all kinds of mathematical principles and traditional concepts, but he approaches his work with a modern flair."

The new book chronicles the progression of Fraser's oeuvre. He launched his career painting landscapes, then portraits and animals.

"I like still-life because I like painting in a studio," Fraser said. "I don't like painting outside. Nor did landscapes offer the narrative option that still-lifes have.

I work from life, but I'm always getting away from something that looks like it exists. There's a surreal element."

Fraser varies the size of his works. Making 'Reign, the 82" x 76" painting featured on the cover of his book was eight months in creation. When engaged with large canvases, he intersperses smaller paintings — oftentimes 12" x 16". Like the Old Masters, he also paints miniatures on copper as small as 3"x 4".

"They're very small and intricate, so I use a magnifying glass on my subject matter and a magnifying glass over the painting, work, and back and forth between the two," said Fraser.

For Fraser, an enormous early influence was the Art Institute of Chicago, near his hometown. He frequented the museum with his parents once they realized his aptitude for painting.

He said, "Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte with its millions of dots, the Picassos and Homers, the modern art: all amazed me."

Now Fraser amazes others with his mastery, yet holds on to humility as surely as he holds a paintbrush.

"When people ask me what I do and 'painter' comes up, they assume I'm a house painter; and I often leave it at that," he said. "Or I might direct them to my website, so if I run into them again it might open a dialogue."

Scott Fraser realism painting Life Cycle
Scott Fraser

Life Cycle

Scott Fraser realism painting Detail from Life Cycle
Scott Fraser

Life Cycle (detail)

Scott Fraser realism painting Sunbathinig Grasshopper
Scott Fraser

Sunbathinig Grasshopper

Scott Fraser realism painting See No Evil
Scott Fraser

See No Evil

Scott Fraser realism painting Six Butterflies
Scott Fraser

Six Butterflies

Scott Fraser realism painting Reign
Scott Fraser

Reign

Scott Fraser realism painting Monkey Inferno II
Scott Fraser

Monkey Inferno II

Scott Fraser realism painting Dragonfly
Scott Fraser

Dragonfly

Scott Fraser realism painting Dialog
Scott Fraser

Dialog

Scott Fraser realism painting Into the Blue
Scott Fraser

Into the Blue

Scott Fraser realism painting Stork Scissors and Frank n Shark
Scott Fraser

Stork Scissors (left) and Frank n Shark (right)

Scott Fraser realism painting Fourth of July
Scott Fraser

Fourth of July

Scott Fraser realism painting The Thief and Goldfish Arc
Scott Fraser

The Thief (left) and Goldfish Arc (right)

Scott Fraser realism painting Triclops
Scott Fraser

Triclops

Fraser built his spacious studio twenty-two years ago on the back end of the home where he lives with his wife, Bronwyn, and their West Highland White Terrier, Petunia. Painterly light pours in from skylights and a bank of windows.

"It's hard to heat," Fraser said, "I have to wear extra clothes in winter."

The artist also drapes a heating pad over his neck to relieve shoulder tension while working. Since the couple's kids went away to college, Fraser often works six days a week rather than five.

He said, "Maybe the hours are not as long because I allow time to exercise or get coffee or take my dog for a walk."

Nonetheless, he's his own taskmaster. A typical day finds him working 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.

He said, "I love what I do, so time just flies." he said.

For more, visit sfraser.com.

About the Author

Colleen Smith

Colleen Smith is a longtime arts writer based in Denver.

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