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Scotty Peek, Painting What He Knows

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

To accompany our Scotty Peek Week (I like the ring that has to it),
here is a quick interview Scotty did for us. Enjoy!

From the beginning— Where are you from and how did you get into art? What are your beginnings in the art world?

I'm from Southern Alabama - Dozier and Andalusia area. I grew up in a family of truck drivers and spent a lot of my youth in the moving cab of an 18-wheeler. I sometimes wonder if those long hours staring out at the passing landscapes play into the motivation behind my landscape paintings.

As a kid, I always assumed I'd be an artist. I can't explain it. It probably comes from being praised for a drawing early in life and adopting that identity, but it's odd that I never wavered in my path. I never considered another career/ life.

I attended my home-town junior college on an art scholarship, then transferred to Austin Peay State University in Tennessee for my BFA. I loved it there. My teachers were all young, active art-makers. This made a deep impression on me: seeing them practice what they preached. I messed around in bands for a few years after college before heading to The University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina for a three-year MFA program. At both schools, I pursued Studio Art, mostly drawing. I met my wife Sally (a handbag maker - @nanabysally on Instagram) in Columbia and never left. I worked in galleries and museums, taught at several colleges, most recently South Carolina State, before taking the High School Art Teacher position at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School 11 years ago. I've focused a lot of my energy and attention on teaching art most of my adult life, while steadily making art of my own. I felt a huge pull 4-5 years ago to be more purposeful and attentive to my painting work, and committed myself to the pursuit. Each year, I make more and more work than the previous year. No painting is easy, it's always a struggle, but something is clicking about the process, and I'm trying not to stand in its way.

Where is your favorite place to paint?

The places I know. I don't feel the need to trek to obscure locations to capture reference images. Most of my paintings originate from photos taken within blocks of my house…and maybe 40 percent are views from my yard. From any given point, there are hundreds of potential paintings.

What inspires you most about being an artist? What has being an artist taught you about yourself?

The older I get, the more and more I embrace things that are different, unique, or unusual. Being able to express myself in those exact ways…searching for something when I'm not even totally sure of what that thing is or of its ultimate value...if it even needs a value. As an artist, early on, you realize the worth of creating something that didn't exist before you created it. It's sort of addictive…to the point that if you haven't created anything in a while, no matter how satisfied or happy you are with everything else about your life, you feel like you are not fulfilling your purpose.
Art teaches me to look at things a bit more closely, examining the world as it is, rather than quickly making assumptions. Knowing that upon closer study, there will always be unexpected things…little surprises.

What do you hope the public/ collectors gain from your art?

I hope the work seems familiar to them, like it could be their own backyard or a path they walked as a child, but also offers them something new and unexplored. I'd like them to be able to periodically find new favorite parts or areas of a painting. Sometimes I want them to notice the realistic image, but other times, only see the brushstrokes or abstracted shapes.

What kinds of art and culture do you like to consume?

Music is at the top of the list. I love that new artists pop up on my musical radar, and that as a whole, music evolves within a tradition of technical skills. Some buck the system, others work within a set of hard rules. It's so much like visual art in this way. I've found that I gravitate to music that is different, but not completely off-the-wall. I enjoy when a song seems like it's going one way, and then it goes another. When a melody seems like it'll end in a predictable note, but goes to another... or when a lyric does the same, or when a line ends earlier than it seems like it should. Unpredictable movements, while moving within a set of predictions, keep me listening. I often think of my art in these terms. "If this painting was a song by a band, what band would it be?" Or, "what kind of painting would this band create?" I don't want to make paintings that are the visual equivalent to the music that I find boring. Sometimes I do, without thinking, and when I realize it, I start shaking the painting up…making less predictable marks/ colors. I really just appreciate all things that are different, and try to remember that when making my own art. There's already enough normalcy and predictability in the world.

What is your favorite color?

Being a landscape artist in the southeast, it's hard not to be a fan of the great variety of greens and blues. Lately though, I've been having fun with pinks and off-whites, especially as they become muddy or lean towards warm grays.

Who or what is your biggest influence/ muse for your work?

I used to obey the whims of the muse more often, not working when not inspired, but I get more done when I show up to paint, muse or no muse. However, as far as influences, I've found Instagram to be great for my productivity. I only follow artists, no family or friends, and I enjoy this constant feed of other artists doing their thing. It pushes me to make more, knowing that others are making more. It's a good kind of peer pressure.

How do you know when your piece is done?

I rarely do, and am often guilty of working past the point that I should have stopped. That then forces me to back the painting up, developmentally, with big and loose strokes that reintroduce the chaos of the earlier stages. Still, I stop painting when it feels like the painting has something to offer besides a direct representation. I want the painting to have some kind of distinctive character or identity. I've painted over many decent landscape paintings that portrayed the actual landscape, but that didn't stand up to the question, "But, so what?"

Do you remember the first piece you ever sold?

I did a white charcoal portrait of Walt Whitman for my Junior year English teacher, and I think she paid me, but I can't remember exactly. My first sales of my own pursuits probably happened in early college, age 18 or 19, and probably to family. I was doing oil paintings looking-up at downtown buildings with a lot of sky, and these were probably the first paintings that some people liked and wanted. My hometown was tiny, so I had to go to larger cities for the reference photos. Those buildings seemed so exotic and "big city" to me then, and now I realize they weren't that big, just larger than my small town offered.

How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen it?

Based on the landscape, but not obligated to it. Descriptive and observational, but sometimes not obviously so. Abstracted, sometimes towards non-representation, but rarely all the way. Lots of obvious mark-making.

Thanks for your time, Scotty.

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