Saturday, March 20, 2010

Larry Scott: The Picasso of Charles Village

by Barry Michael Cooper

(This is a piece from 2003 issue of The Journal of Urban Youth Culture--a magazine founded by my good friend and famed Michigan State University educator Dr. Carl S. Taylor--on the late Baltimore, Md. fine artist, Larry Scott. Scott--who died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2007--was one of the most prolific artists this city had ever seen. In my opinion, he was the Picasso of Baltimore, Md.)

"He lived so many years with small intervals of recuperation, in visible glory, honored by the world, yet in spite of that, troubled in spirit, and all the more troubled because no one would take his trouble seriously..."
Franz Kafka, "A Hunger Artist"

"...Don't shed a tear/'cause Mama/I ain't happy here..."
Tupac Shakur, "I Ain't Mad At Cha"

I am sure that neither Franz Kafka, nor Tupac Shakur have ever met Baltimore painter Larry Scott. Yes, it is quite absurd; one died seven years ago in a shower of nine millimeter mystery and counterfeit love, the other nearly a century ago from savage tuberculosis and public ennui. Yet the viscous that bonds all three is the need to be experienced; that humid, gothic desire fueling the mythic virus known as glitteraticosis, p.k.a. mad fame. Not that Scott, the 46-year-old Newark, New Jersey native and husband, father, and grandfather is sweating the art world for acceptance. His amazing work just wants you to holla if your feel it. 
(Larry Scott, 2003. Photo Credit: Barry Michael Cooper)
In a snoring, regressive art culture populated with timid provocateurs, angry submissives, and cautious reactionaries, Scott is a quiet realist. Meeting him for the first time, and you might imagine the middle cousin between a young Gordon Parks, and the present day Denzel Washington. At the popular Xando-Cosi Coffee and Bar on 31st and Charles in East Baltimore - probably the best caffeine station in the city, and directly across the street from the prestigious Baltimore Museum Of Art - Larry Scott holds court with manager and assistant manager Randall Hurt and Sam Mason, along with some of the regulars; multi-media artist Natalie R. West, Nur the cabdriver, Mark Cottman and Jonathan Azor (two more great painters), and the novelist Jonathan Jackson - and appears to be beloved by everyone in the cafe.
(from left to right: artists Eugene Coles, Don Griffin and the late Larry Scott,
the Xandos Cafe in Charles Village, Baltimore, Md.,
17 November 2004 Photo Credit: Barry Michael Cooper) 
Scott is opinionated but not overbearing. He also serves as the curator for art gallery in Xandos, which hangs some notable work on both floors. He has created a loose collective of Baltimore artists known as ComZee, which includes the painters Cottman, Azor, Eugene R. Coles, Don Griffin, Jeffrey Kent, Tony McKissick, Arin Mitchell, and photographer/graphic artist Sutikare. Scott may be at the forefront of a new movement of black art on the east coast. I call it Art Noir Eleve, or “High Black Art.” And without question, Baltimore could become its epicenter.
 (Larry Scott:"Ready2Die...?(pt.2)", 2003)
Jonathan Jackson - the nephew of “Notes From A Soledad Brother” author and 70s revolutionary George L. Jackson, and whose first novel, “The Reductionists”, penned under the pseudonym “Ivan O. Martin” is a striking debut - has nothing but bon mots for Scott. “Larry is not just a great painter. He is a friend who I can talk to when I need advice, and is in no way shape or form judgmental. But he will not pull any punches, either."
(Larry Scott:"Ready2Die...?(pt.3)", 2003)
A former world karate champion, Scott learned his skill from his late father, Walter Gerald Scott, who would paint cowboys and cartoon figures on brown paper bags from the supermarket. “My Dad and my Mom Juliette both supported my creative instincts. He was an incredible painter,” Scott told me in a recent interview. “He would paint cowboys, and figures from comic books with amazing precision. I was so fascinated by what he did, that he brought some pencils, crayons, paint and brushes for me, and would show me how to paint. His line was amazing; very strong and fluid. I think that’s why people say my line is so striking. It’s what I absorbed from my father.” 

(Larry Scott's East Baltimore studio, 2003. Photo Credit: Barry Michael Cooper)

When artists speak of line, it’s their imprimatur, their calling card. Analogous to Coltrane’s effervescent polyphonic runs, or Marvin’s urgent vibrato, a painter’s line will speak volumes about both the picture and the painter. In the massive corpus of Scott’s work, consisting of abstracts, figurative Expressionism, surrealism, and bold colorful portraits of historical figures like James Baldwin - whom he met in the airport at Brussels back in 1986, two years before he won his last and final world karate championship - the line really jumps out in his prolific, “Evolution Of Depression”.
(A portion of Larry Scott's 200-piece series titled, "Evolution of Depression", 2003.
Photo Credit: Barry Michael Cooper)
A series of 200, india ink on 18”x24” white paper (“I used a twig that I sharpened to paint that collection in three weeks” Scott says) “painting-drawins,” the oeuvre is vaguely reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s 1973 “Three Studies For A Self Portrait,” but has a feel all its own. Says Franklin Sirmans, the brilliant art critic, author, curator, and editor-in-chief AsiaArt/Pacific Magazine of Scott’s line in “Evolution Of Depression”; “The drawins almost feel like he’s working 3-D constructing forms with the line. Then there’s the almost abstraction of the work. The thing that hooks me is the simplicity/complexity of the black and whites..they just look mad original and damn good.” 

“ The most important thing is to look at the painting, to read the poetry or listen to the music. Not in order to understand it, or to know it, but to feel something.” 
Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon in Conversation with Michel Archimbaud

“Lord help me/all I wanted to be is wealthy/or somebody to tell me that they felt me…” 
Jay-Z, “There’s Been A Murder,” Vol. 3; Life And Times Of S. Carter 

The summer of 1970 (maybe it was 1971) was the first time I “felt” a painting. As a 12-year-old in Harlem’s Minisink Day Camp, I couldn’t articulate it, but understood on some level in that wing of the Guggenheim Museum, that I was moved by Picasso’s “Guernica.” I was transfixed; trying to decipher the hieroglyph of the light bulb, the mélange of fear and anger on the face of the bull, the fallout of cubist carnage. The impact of the work was wowerful; whoever, whatever, whenever Pablo Picasso was, I felt Guernica. 
 (Pablo Picasso: Guernica, 1937)
Sitting downstairs at Xandos and looking at Larry Scott‘s “Ready2Die…?(pt.1)," I feel the déjà vu of “Guernica” once again. It is a 32”x36” watercolor and acrylic, mixed-media tour de force focusing on the bandana’d, optic-less face of Tupac Shakur. His visage is the centerpiece, seemingly suspended in a place of spirit-sleep as faceless chimeras (one of whom has a sunburst of red splashed on the solar plexus; a murderous Rorschach?) adorned with twisted dreads and elastic, ghastly limbs, in some muted netherworld contention over the soul of the eminence-grise of Thug Life. It bottoms out with several alabaster caskets with crucifixes attached to them like deified antennae, which also entomb a collection of photographs; an ice-grilled Bobby Seale; a chocolate child-princess that could be one of the four girls bombed to bits in that Birmingham church; several Aunt Jemima archetypes, a sepia-toned and chiseled jaw soldier from World War I.
 (Larry Scott:"Ready2Die...?(pt.1)", 2003)
“Ready2Die…?(pt1)” also bethinks one of Basquiats most engaging pieces, the 1982 acrylic and oil work titled “Profit I”
 (Jean-Michel Basquiat: "Profit I", 1982)
The crashing symbolism (of Byzantine halo ringed around the trademark grimacing doodle-head; a backdrop of crossed out mathematical figures, tic-tac-dough apocrypha; the Roman numerals “1981”) strikes a chord of suspicion that “Profit I” (One?) is actually “I, Profit”, a blistering self portrait. As if JMB has peeped game…the ones who make you make you corpulent with filthy lucre and fabulousness can’t wait to watch you wretch with spiritual anorexia.
(Larry Scott:"Ready2Die...?(pt.4)", 2003)
“ Ready2Die…?" (a series of six different pieces) subsumes its own iconography, making Larry Scott the first modern painter to depict rap as a cultural crime scene. In doing so, Scott both autopsies rap’s infatuation with nihilist narcissism and laments the malediction of def raps falling on deafer ears in the midst of a graveyard of young and beautiful corpses - not all of whom are literally deceased - who undoubtedly got rich and most assuredly (in some form or another) died trying.

Below is a scene from my online art film/webiseries Blood On The Wall$, which features Larry Scott. The guy was a not only a great artist but a capable first time actor, too. 


msladydeborah said...

Very interesting article. I enjoyed reading the information on Larry Scott. He produced some thought provoking work.

Bmc said...

@msladydeborah:thank you for your kind words, and yes, Larry Scott was a truly prolific, profound, and provocative artist. GOD Rest his soul. Thanks again for your feedback. I appreciate it.

Unknown said...

11yrs and 1 week I'm reading this abd seeing this video of my late husband for the first time. He's truly missed. Thank you for remembering him