Interview with Scott Musgrove
By blending biology and surrealistic painting with a dash of European renaissance-style landscapes, Scott Musgrove has created quite a splash in the modern art world. In his most recent work, Late Fauna of Early North America the artist examines creatures of his own creation that may have thrived on this continent, but are now extinct. This modern mythology has been captivating audiences at various galleries on the West Coast and now he joins the Designer Toy family. His Booted Glamour Cat (produced by Wootini and STRANGEco) made an enormous splash at the recent San Diego Comic Con, with all the pieces brought selling out. Also, the artist is busy getting ready for his September showing at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York. As busy as he is, he was gracious enough to take the time to discuss his artistic process, paintings, and making the Booted Glamour Cat come to life.
MillionairePlayboy.com: You've worked in different mediums over the years to produce your art (comic books, paintings, and now vinyl). Which would you say best conveys your artistic voice and why?
Scott Musgrove: Well, each of the mediums have their own advantages as far as being able to convey certain kinds of information and stories. Comics and animation are obviously better for telling a story in an explicit way because you can just spell it out for people. Paintings work a little differently because you need to convey a lot in just one image or perhaps more correctly, you have to imply more. In the past, especially in early renaissance religious paintings, there was a whole language of symbolism that was used because so much information was needed to be conveyed in a single image. The flip-side of that kind of painting seems to be some of these abstract painters whose painting itself might just be hideous smears of color or jagged twists of metal that convey nothing...until you read the hefty manual they've written for the thing. It usually comes across as a last minute attempt to somehow legitimize what they've done. Seems to me that the viewer should get at least a little something from just looking at the painting. OK, I've gotten a little off track here. The short answer is that painting is a better fit for me because I prefer to just imply things and let the viewers sort it out for themselves. I enjoyed doing comics back when I did them but a few years ago something clicked and I realized that painting is what I should be doing and that I should try to get rid of the other distractions. I also really enjoyed animation but when I was doing my show for Sony and Cartoon Network Europe I found that I was losing too much creative control so ultimately it wasnít satisfying. When you're working on something with a couple hundred other people, you're bound to lose some of your control. And why bother putting something out into the world unless youíre really happy with it? With painting I have complete control over what I'm doing. So, good or bad it's entirely my fault. With my animated series I had so many excuses for why it wasn't perfect but with painting my only excuses can be a lack of talent or patience.
MillionairePlayboy.com: How do you approach a work? Do you have a definite plan in mind, or do you let it come naturally and evolve as you create?
Scott Musgrove: I usually do a pretty detailed drawing of what I want to paint. I envy those painters who can just sit down with a blank canvas and make something beautiful without preliminary drawings. I usually sketch it out small, do a slightly larger, tighter drawing and then re-size it to the final size of the canvas. By the time I start painting I've drawn it a number of times and have a pretty good idea of what Iím supposed to do. However, the color is something I just figure out as I paint.
MPb: In many of your paintings you've created a modern mythology examining extinct animals of your creation. What sparked your interest in this blend of science and painting?
Scott: First off, I'm allergic to most animals, so this is my only shot at having any pleasant interactions with any non-human creatures. I'm really fascinated by most animals...I mean what ARE they and what are they doing here? I had a roommate some years ago who had a dog and one day it wandered into my studio and just sat down and looked at me for awhile and I must say I had one of those moments where you see something really clearly, as if for the first time. I see dogs everyday but then for the first time I looked at this animal and just started cracking up laughing. A dog is a ridiculous thing. What IS it? What is it made of? Why is it looking at me? Why has it agreed to live in this house? Why is it such good friends with my roommate? Doesn't it have anything better to do? Anyway, that 'encounter' made me start paying more attention to animals again in a way that I hadn't really since I was a little kid.
The other thing that kind of got me started on this current series of paintings of extinct animals happened when I was traveling in Sumatra some years ago. I was traveling with some friends and we hired a guide to take us into the jungle. We walked for several days through the jungle to this little village of about 5 or 6 huts. The conditions were very primitive and so even in the middle of the night if you had to go to the 'bathroom' you just wandered out into the jungle and did your business. So one night I stumbled out into the jungle and was standing there relieving myself near an old streambed. It was a full moon so the visibility was pretty good and I saw this weird creature come ambling towards me. It was about knee-high, furry with long feet and kind of a long face. It didn't look exactly like any animal I had seen before. And it scared the crap out of me. I made it back to our hut in short order. When I got back I described the animal to our guide. He translated what I said to the locals but they couldn't say for sure what I'd seen. So, I took out a paper and pencil and tried to draw it. I did my best to represent what I'd seen but it didn't help identify the animal. I looked around and saw all the kids from the village had gathered around and were staring wide-eyed at my drawing. So, just for fun I drew some big wings on the creature and then added sharp claws, massive teeth, stripes, etc. When I looked up again all the kids were shrinking back in horror, obviously thinking that this thing was lurking in their formerly friendly forest. Obviously, I felt bad immediately and went to great lengths to assure them I was just kidding and that I saw no such beast in the jungle. I think I undid the damage but it started me thinking about the early explorers all over the world and how skewed were their perceptions of animals and people they had only caught a glimpse of. This of course leads to misunderstandings and conflicts. Animals and peoples are exterminated as a result of this bad information. Specifically in what I'm trying to do, there is an environmental undertone to it. It's about extinction and loss of habitat, etc. Hopefully it's just an undertone though. Personally, I don't think it would do much good to beat people over the head with it. There are more effective ways to talk about environmental issues but these paintings combine a number of things I'm interested in aesthetically as well as socially. In the end though, my long-term goal is to just try to produce paintings that are beautiful. I keep hoping it will happen.
MPb: One of the more popular fauna you've created is the Booted Glamour Cat, which is now a Designer Toy produced by Wootini. Did they contact you with the idea or was creating a toy something that you have always been interested in doing?
Scott: Mike Maher at Wootini contacted me firstbut it was at just about the moment that I started thinking about what some of these creatures would look like as little sculptures. I was, about that time, working on a little computer animated short-film with an animation company here in Seattle. They were making these great 3-D computer models of one of my animals and I kinda wanted to reach into the computer screen and pull it out so I could have a good look at it. Anyway, just then I got contacted by Wootini and they asked if I had any particular animals that I would like to do as a toy. I didn't know much about this designer toy business so actually creating toys wasn't my first motivation. I really just wanted to see these animals as little sculptures. Also, I love dioramas. Especially the ones in the Natural History Museum in New York. Personally, I think that as works of art, they are some of the most incredible pieces in the world. There are so many disciplines involved in creating them, everything from taxidermy, botany, landscape design to sculpture, landscape painting, lighting, etc. Anyway, I'm in the process of designing some small dioramas and these Glamour Cats may figure into at least one of them.
MPb: Could you tell us some of the process that was behind the creation of the piece (how involved were you)?
Scott: Well, working with Mike and Heather at Wootini and the people at StrangeCo was a great experience. From the beginning Mike made sure that everything was exactly the way I wanted it. He never asked me to compromise or settle for something sub-par. The very few times that there were problems with colors or designs, he made sure that it got fixed the way I wanted. I couldn't have asked for more than that.
The process started with me doing some drawings of this animal from 4 or 5 different angles. I also did a few drawings of some of the detail areas. One of the nice things was that I'd already done some paintings of this Booted Glamour Cat, so the sculptor had that to work with from the start. The sculptor did a great job from the beginning and we only had to make a few relatively minor alterations before we settled on the final model. I gave them some various color schemes to work from as well. Then they sent me a template for a box and I did the design for that myself. I did use come hand-lettered things that my friend Shawn Wolfe had designed.
MPb: Why did you go with the Glamour Cat to be your first Designer Toy? In other words, what does the Glamour Cat have that drew you to it instead of say...the Prairie Boxer or the Fidget?
Scott: There wasn't much rhyme or reason as to what we choose the Glamour cat first. Both Mike and I just looked at it and said, "Yeah, that guy."
MPb: Was it difficult to shift your thinking from a two-dimensional background to the sculpture mindset needed for turnaround drawings and thinking spatially for the Glamour Cat toy?
Scott: Luckily, I'd had some experience doing turnaround drawings when I worked in animation. So it wasn't completely new for me. Also, the sculptor did a great job of interpreting my sometimes less-than-professional drawings.
MPb: I understand that the debut of the toy went well at San Diego Comic Con with all the exclusives brought to the show selling out. That's fantastic! With such a great start we have to ask, what's next for Scott Musgrove in the Designer Toy world?
Scott: Well, I would love to do more from this "Late Fauna of Early North America" series. It would be fun for me to have 5 or 6 of these on the mantle staring at me with their accusing lifeless eyes.
MPb: How about your more "gallery accepted" art? What's going on in your studio right now?
Scott: At the moment, I'm frantically trying to get ready for my show in September at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York. So, for the time being, it's just paint, paint, paint. These paintings are still part of the "Late Fauna" series but they are always changing a little. I feel like I'm making subtle improvements in my technique and color as I get more and more comfortable with oils. Hopefully people will agree.
MPb: Thanks Scott. We wish you the best and I hope to some day get my hands on a Maorie Mule vinyl!
Be sure to check back Friday for our coverage of the Booted Glamour Cat and a chance to win your own UV version of the beast!
Scott's site, ScottMusgrove.com has all the info you need on the guy and a great online portfolio of his work.
Check out our complete coverage of Designer toys.
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