Talking Caravaggio, not Chord Progressions, with Scott Avett

Chair Sharing

James C. Williams
Chair Sharing
Scott Avett may be famous for his musical chops, but he’s also earning a name for himself as a talented visual artist with a unique voice.

Scott Avett may be famous for his musical chops, but he’s also earning a name for himself as a talented visual artist with a unique voice.

Scott Avett

“I’m not anything first—not painter, musician, writer, printmaker, performer—before I am an artist.”

Scott Avett

If you assume that Scott Avett’s artwork is noteworthy only because of his career as a musician, think again. By viewing the term “art” as an umbrella covering all creative forms, this modern Renaissance man has no need to limit himself.

The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) hosts Avett’s first solo museum exhibit, Scott Avett: I N V I S I B L E, from October 12 to February 2, 2020. Work in a variety of media is on display, including paintings and printmaking, as well as pieces related to Avett’s musical career. Avett is represented by SOCO Gallery in Charlotte, NC, where he will have a solo exhibit of new work from January 22 through March 6, 2020.

Born in Wyoming in 1976 and raised in rural North Carolina, Avett earned a BFA from East Carolina University in 2000. The theme of life in the south that runs through Avett’s work may seem like regionalism, but he does not necessarily see himself as a Southern artist, though he still lives in North Carolina. Instead, he explores how digging deep to create such revealing, personal portraits can reflect a shared human condition.

Linda Dougherty, Chief Curator and Curator of Contemporary Art at the NCMA, describes his large-scale figurative oils as “…psychologically charged and emotionally intense. These portrayals are vulnerable, often intimate, and sometimes uncomfortably truthful.”

Avett makes his figures look iconic when using 106" x 65" canvases, but like the Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio who inspires him, he does not use idealized models. In addition to self-portraits, Avett paints his wife and children as he explores what it means to be a parent or child. “I rely on exploiting my own personal relationships with my family, because…it’s what I know, and I just trust that it is relatable because it’s a human experience,” says Avett.

Symbolism permeates many of his works. In Fatherhood, blood drips to the floor under a young child balanced on the artist’s knee. In another self-portrait, Black Mouse, White Mouse, Avett, like a circus strong man, holds up a thin branch with a rodent on each end, using unnecessary force.

Several figures sport oversized feet–a subconscious influence from the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, Avett explains. This represents our relationship with the earth, he says, and “…the groundedness of being human,” Avett confesses to also painting large ears “…when they’re there.”

Jump the Chair
James C. Williams

Jump the Chair, 2017. Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas.

Color Wheel
James C. Williams

Color Wheel (1), 2014. Acrylic and screenprint on canvas.

Jump the Mama
James C. Williams

Jump the Mama, 2017​​​​​. Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas.

Chair Sharing
Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2019 Scott Avett

Chair Sharing, 2016. Oil on canvas.

Thinking Boy
James C. Williams

Thinking Boy, 2018. Oil on canvas.

James C. Williams

Wetlands, 2018. Oil on canvas.

American Rooster in Amalfi
James C. Williams

American Rooster in Amalfi, 2018. Oil on canvas.

James C. Williams

Missing, 2018. Oil on canvas.

Sarah in Bikini
James C. Williams

Sarah in Bikini, 2015. Oil on canvas.

Toy Pieta
James C. Williams

Toy Pieta, 2018. Oil on canvas.

Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2019 Scott Avett

Sheep/Wolf, 2013. Linoleum block print, screen print, and acrylic on paper.

Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2019 Scott Avett

Motherhood, 2012. Oil on canvas.

Jump the Boy
Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2019 Scott Avett

Jump the Boy, 2017. Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas.

Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2019 Scott Avett

Fatherhood, 2013. Oil on canvas.

Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2018 Scott Avett

Daddy, 2016. Oil on wood.

Color Wheel
Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2018 Scott Avett

Color Wheel, 2014. Linoleum block print.

Black Mouse, White Mouse
Lydia Bittner-Baird, © 2019 Scott Avett

Black Mouse, White Mouse, 2010. Oil on canvas.

Scott Avett in his studio, 2017.
Airtype Studio

Scott Avett in his studio, 2017.

The influence of other artists shines through Avett’s work, though his paintings are uniquely his own, and his style is firmly contemporary. He cites Alice Neel as one of his heroes, whose influence is particularly seen in Chair Sharing. In Toy Pieta, Philip Pearlstein’s voice is heard through advice given by Avett’s mentor, Leland Wallin, who studied with the figurative master. Regarding his style of paint application, Avett cites Édouard Manet as: “a huge [inspiration]…, because the lack of marks in his work floors me.”

In certain works, Avett employs a flat color background, later cleverly circumventing the setting entirely through a series of figurative cutouts. These oil on wood panels look like larger-than-life paper dolls, and the dynamic pose in Daddy once again reveals a Caravaggio inspiration. When Avett realized that he was avoiding the background challenge, he transitioned to working with deeper space.

While Avett acknowledges that Toy Pieta is “the fussiest one in the whole room, because it has many backgrounds,” his resulting artistic journey eventually led him to the simplicity of Thinking Boy. Here, he stops at an earlier point in the painting process, letting the strong light on the boy’s back speak. Though the model is his son, Avett considers this a self-portrait.

Printmaking for Avett is playful and enjoyable. In his prints, he duplicates figures that were originally used in paintings, and describes this process as deconstruction. When comparing printmaking to painting, he shares, “It’s more fun, it’s not as critical,…[nor as] labor intensive….” In his linoleum block prints, Avett excels in the mark-making that he minimizes in his oil brushwork. Not afraid to experiment, Avett also repeats imagery in a series of acrylic and silkscreen works on Plexiglas.

“I used to say that my painting and music were parallel, that they traveled alongside of each other and never merged or bisected. But I was wrong… they live together.” —Scott Avett

The artist co-founded The Avett Brothers the same year he received his Fine Arts degree. His two creative outlets intersect in small, haunting portraits of himself and his bandmates. A similar work, Julianne in Vain was used as the cover art for The Avett Brothers album I and Love and You. As Dougherty points out, “…until now, this art-making part of his life has been a secret and a more solitary creative pursuit in comparison to his life as a musician, singer, and songwriter.”

A crossroads came in 2004 when the band was invited to perform at MerleFest, an annual celebration of “traditional plus” music in Wilkesboro, NC. Avett took this as a sign to pursue music rather than attend graduate school for visual art and then move to New York City. “I took a break for seven or eight months from drawing and painting, and then I never took a break again…. Through hard work and some luck we were able to make a living at what we do, and I can keep painting.

“I think the best way for me to handle [both careers] is [to] seasonally do one or the other,” he says, though he clarifies that those ebb and flow times might only last four days. “If I’m going to do both, when I’m doing one of them, it has to have my full attention.”

A sound installation featuring Avett working out ideas for new songs is included in the NCMA exhibit, providing a window into his creative process. As to whether he plans to incorporate music into his visual artwork, Avett wants to pair paintings with songs that would play while each piece is being viewed. “I think that’s important. I should do that with this show.”

About the Author

Amy Funderburk

Amy Funderburk is a professional artist and freelance arts writer based in Winston-Salem, NC, specializing in visionary works in which she explores the intersection of the physical world with a more fluid spiritual realm. She works out of the Sternberger Artists Center in Greensboro, NC, and maintains a blog, Drinking from the Well of Inspiration, to provide deeper insight into her creative process. Follow her on twitter: @AFunderburkArt and on Instagram: @AmyFunderburkArtist.

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