If you’re a regular here at Art Talk, you may be familiar with Iris Scott. Iris is UGallery’s resident finger painter, creating unpredictable paintings with a texture and charm reminiscent of Van Gogh.
Possibly her most iconic piece, “Shakin’ Off the Blues” – an ode to her England Labrador retriever, Jake – was a viral sensation. Now she’s back with an encore. We sat down to chat with Iris about her new piece, “Canis Major.”
What inspired the original wet dog painting? Did you know you were on to something?
Well, yes. I remember in 2012 when “Shakin’ off the Blues” was first attempted with oil finger painting I couldn’t really believe I had pulled it off. I was a little shaky even in the first hour it was completed. It was much better than I had planned the painting to be, it was more or less an enormous accident, for I had not planned on making the original so blue…my original goal had been to have more realistic colors, but I stopped early.
Deciding to finger paint subject matter such as wet dogs first goes back to 2012 when my partner and I took a six day canoe trip down the John Day River in Oregon. That wonderful labrador, who passed away this year, stood at the helm all week, proudly supervising us, as we went from camp outpost to camp outpost. Jake, the model, was eager to launch himself into the water every time we landed. When I saw those thousands of little water droplets come off him day after day I slowly started to visualize how he would translate into a painting. Good ideas sneak up on me slowly, and “Shakin’ off the Blues” was something I meditated on for the length of that camping trip.
There’s a cool story, and a unique element, to this painting.
I live in Brooklyn, a 25 minute subway ride from the Met. Art museums like the MoMa and the Whitney are always calling me to come visit them. On days when painting just doesn’t cut it, I pack up and make the short trek to Manhattan for a break from work. Museums for me are literally like getting injected with adrenaline. Pollock has been part of a permanent collection at the Met, and never before had I really cared too much for his work. There are plenty other artists I much prefer over his works, but on my most recent trip there, when I got nose to nose with his canvas I said under my breath, “My god this is not hard, I need to be flinging paint for God’s sake."
Iris finding inspiration at the Met.
So I scampered home, busted out a wet dog using my old strategy, and then at the end of the piece flung thinned paint onto it like a Pollock drip painting. Not to say that what Pollock accomplished - making drip painting fine art - isn’t special - the actual act of flinging paint is just not hard to do. In fact drip paint naturally leads to beautiful designs pretty effortlessly, I suggest everyone try it, it’s therapeutic and wrought with happy accidents.
Were you nervous to fling paint straight onto a finished work?
I’m a pretty impatient person, and so on the painting right before "Canis Major” I made my first attempt with flinging paint right onto the surface of a freshly finished dog painting called “Shakin’ Jake”. I was a little nervous, but it’s fun having so much on the line. I just sort of knew it would work, is that weird?
How do you know when you’ve flung just the right amount of paint?
When I’m painting I squint my eyes constantly, because a blurry view of my own painting will help me notice only the most important light and dark zones. I was quite fearful I would overdo it. I didn’t want to make the dog disappear entirely behind the spray, after all, I had just spent 10 exhaustive hours meticulous painting the black labrador. So I took snapshots of the lab every 5 minutes and sent out a group text message to my girlfriends. Once all of them agreed “no more Iris you’re gonna overdo the droplets!” it was time to stop.
Painting is not something to be too private about. In fact there’s too much damn pressure on artists to lock themselves in their studios and ignore the thoughts and opinions of others. If I’m not careful, I’ll grow so close to my unfinished work that it becomes impossible for me to see the forest for the trees.