Q&A with Resident Artist Scott Vincent Campbell
Between the New York Times articles and steady word-of-mouth, Scott Vincent Campbell had heard Detroit’s siren song of cheap rent and studio space for artists. Born and raised in New York City and currently living in Queens, creating without the realities of rent creeping into the studio were nothing new to Campbell. The marketing campaign for Detroit was visible, but his inner skeptic remained.
“Growing up in New York, I saw gentrification in [Brooklyn neighborhoods like] Williamsburg, Bushwick,” says Campbell. “It wasn’t a new storyline to me.” When rent is cheap, an arts infrastructure emerges. But regardless of what happens tomorrow, Detroit offers something today that currently comes at premium in NYC — the space and time to create affordably.
As a teenager, Campbell thought about becoming an architect. It’s an attraction to form that you can see glimpses of in his upcoming exhibition Not Good But Well Behaved at Red Bull House of Art. Seeing architecture rise and fall in New York, however, was like seeing the cycle of gentrification at hyperspeed for Campbell. The rate at which buildings went up to only see them torn down a few years later and replaced was astonishing, recalls Campbell.
“Then we’d go on a class trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see a bowl from centuries ago that was carefully maintained,” remembers Campbell.
The concept of longevity in his work drew him further into the arts and kept him there. Now, he traverses mediums while binding them together through concepts rooted in identity and memory. It’s an approach that allows his style and continued narrative on such subjects to be consistently woven throughout his robust body of work.
We spoke with Campbell about his upcoming exhibit at Red Bull House of Art and how an abundance of space and time without financial restrictions can empower an artist, how conceptual themes can become a visual style and what he hopes patrons take away from Not Good But Well Behaved.
In NYC, finding space to bring your visions to life can be a constant struggle. When you’re able to remove the restrictions at a residency like this, how does that change your process and what you end up creating?
My work has certainly scaled up in the time that I’ve been here. When the opportunity came, I jumped at it. It’s the first time I’m able to get up in the morning, get to the studio and focus on my art all day. It’s hard to avoid the commercial pressures that exist in NYC, but especially working in the galleries there, it was hard for me not to think of different commercial aspects — what dealers like, what people like, what’s selling, what’s not. As a working artist, it’s hard for those things to not seep into your studio. This opportunity is really nice in the sense that I came here and make. I want to be able to make the artwork that I want to make and not have to worry about the logistics.
Working across many mediums as an artist, you’ve mentioned that your work is often tied together by a series of conceptual themes. How does Not Good But Well Behaved fit in?
The main themes that run through my work are family, memory, history, identity and how all of those things melt together. Different bodies of work I’ve done may look different, but the way they are made is the thread that links them all.
For Not Good But Well Behaved, it’s all about honesty. There are these large, all black sculptures that, in their form, reference different cultural material objects that people would use to defend themselves in society — all the different mechanisms that impede us from having to face certain difficult truths. I’m fascinated with material culture and it certainly informs my work. I’m fascinated with these objects — masks, spiritual guards — that are held with incredible importance. Artwork does the same thing in a non-secular society.
What experience or impression do you hope people walk away with after experiencing Not Good But Well Behaved?
I hope they walk away with questions. My process is very self-reflective. When I talk about being interested in all the things that make up our own identity, I can only really start with examining my own. I’m heavily influenced by minimalism as well, but I don’t want to erase the hand of the creator. I want people to view my work and see something intimate and personal for me, but I want them to be able to put themselves into my work as well. I want them to view it, grapple it with it and their own issues. Really good art makes the public very personal and also makes the personal very public. That’s what I tend to do.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper