With work now in the Museum of Modern Art's collection, Savannah artist Michael Scoggins may have officially arrived. But that doesn't mean the always-piquant, clever artist is resting on his laurels. For his latest Saltworks Gallery show opening Saturday, Nov. 4, Scoggins revamps his usual drawings done to resemble childish doodles, essays, red-marked tests and other school-days neuroses with some more pointed political content.
What inspired the more political turn?
The work has always had political undercurrents running through it. I decided that it was time to bring things to the surface rather than the more tongue-in-cheek approach I've used in the past. With the world being in its current situation it is the artist's responsibility to respond and comment. Seeing daily news reports and the gross negativity surrounding the upcoming elections helped me search more for what has always been the core of the work and strip away the other layers.
The exhibition is billed as "investigating the awareness of Americans in relation to the influence of societal biases in the political education of its citizens." Please explain.
There are so many media outlets today that we, the American public, can pick and choose where we get our information. It's selective hearing. Our biases are reinforced on a daily basis and it leaves little room for objective thought. Everything is slanted and we are put in easy categories like Red or Blue and issues are fed to us as black or white and the grey areas are ignored.
The more grand perspective is the conditioning of every citizen in this country from an early age. We have pledges and salute flags. We sing anthems and are made to have this superiority complex over the rest of the world. Now, I'm not against pride in one's country, but I think it's gotten out of hand when we look down upon others. The work plays a lot on this conditioning and asks the viewer to examine this and reflect upon their own dealings on this subject.
You are so in touch with the obsessive, intense child's point of view. Do you ever work from your own childhood drawings?
I use to work from childhood drawings. Now the work is based more on childhood memories. But there is always the adult tone underneath. I think it's easier to attack touchy subject matter from a younger perspective. It's less taboo. A child can say and do things that adults can't. That internal self-censorship hasn't been completely locked into place yet.
How do you conjure up that child's sensibility so well?
I'm able to go back to that "place." I work on the floor, rolling around. I keep my materials very simple; pencils or markers. I get into the moment and become that child when the work is executed. The adult part comes before in the thought and planning process and I think the final product finds a nice balance.
Rage, anxiety, humiliation, mania. Your work has it all. What's the emotion that you're most in touch with when you're doing a drawing?
I get very angry and then anxious. I get worked up about whatever subject the work is tackling then dive right in. I want that to be transferred to the audience and have them feel what I feel through my words or lines. I usually get anxious about halfway through a drawing and have that moment where I either push through or pull back. I think to myself, "Can I really say that?" or, "What would my mom say?" It's hard to ignore, but I have found that if the work makes me uneasy then I'm moving in the right direction. If it's easy then what's the point? Art should be challenging.
What kind of kid were you?
I was a quiet kid. I liked to read and draw in my room a lot. I have two younger brothers who where a little more outgoing. I grew up in the country (it's become very suburban today). We used our imagination a lot.
Who were your heroes growing up?
I loved comic books. I spent all of my allowance on Spider-Man and the X-Men. I would read them then try and draw the characters. I created my own universe of heroes and wrote and drew stories. I even got my brother involved and we would draw and talk about what our heroes were doing.
You began as a traditional painter and then switched to doing drawings of stick figures on what looks like oversized notebook paper. What gave you that idea?
It was a slow process. As my painting became more simplified the more it made sense to draw stick figures than paint them. I think the paintings were missing something that drawing could communicate.
There is a universal appeal that drawing has. Painting is more of a mystery but everyone has scribbled or doodled at some point in their life. This is the appeal drawing has for me. The notebook page came about when I decided to stop painting. I had been drawing in a spiral-bound notebook and I liked the blue and red lines and how the paper would tear or fold. It is an object that has little value.
The scale gives it a sense of importance. It is a mass-produced product but it also has mass recognition. It is familiar and I thought it would be a good vehicle. The lines and hole draw the viewer into my narrative.
Is something lost in the age of MySpace and text messaging, when kids no longer vent via journals and doodle caricatures of their despised teachers?
I think the tools have just changed. There may be a loss of individuality but not completely. I think that is another attractive feature to my work. It is nostalgic to some degree and reminds people of the not-so-distant past and how quickly things are changing.