Paintings By Colorblind Artist Michael Scott Generate Intense Optical Effects

Max Ernst once said, “if you wish to keep your ideas clean you must change them regularly, like your shirts.” This philosophy is one that the painter Michael Scott wholeheartedly embraces, and it seems to have informed much of his practice: after painting circles and lines for decades, his oeuvre now includes figurative works inspired by comic-book illustrations. A batch of more recent works—black-and-white line paintings on aluminum boards—are currently on view at Galerie Laurent Strouk.

  • Installation view of Michael Scott at Galerie Laurent Strouk, Paris. Courtesy Galerie Laurent Strouk and the artist.

    Installation view of Michael Scott at Galerie Laurent Strouk, Paris. Courtesy Galerie Laurent Strouk and the artist.

The geometric shapes and repetitive patterns that abound in these works are consistent with an op art ethos. But unlike op art, Scott is concerned with achieving aesthetic results. At Galerie Laurent Strouk, the thoughtful installation design echoes these aesthetic and optical values; each painting is methodically spaced and sequenced.

Scott relates his painting process to designing Rorschach tests—creating forms that may seem neutral, but actually reveal the “subconscious thoughts of the viewer.” In this way his practice relates to that of Wade Guyton, who finds meaning in accidental ink spills and abstract patterns. Other valid reference points for Scott’s line paintings include Dan Graham, who restructures our perception of time and space in his glass pavilions, and On Kawara, whose dedication to measuring time became not only iconic, but significant as a performative aspect in his work. 

Like On Kawara, Scott sees his work as performative, calling it a “meditative practice or performance” with a “very optical end result.” Working with tape and paint, Scott marks off sections of canvas before coating it with paint—effectively highlighting positive and negative space. The meaning of his work is as much generated by absence and pause as it is by a positive presence of form. To explain this, Scott references minimalist music, particularly works by Glenn Branca, Rhys, Chatham, and Sonic Youth. The silence between notes acts like a poetic break between stanzas, or in Scott’s paintings, the gaps between sections of black paint. In literature this might be referred to as a pregnant pause. (In music, a John Cagean silence.)

After viewing one of Scott’s works, critic Stephen Maine noted that he saw a kind of “pale but distinct violet and lime green,” a sort of afterglow. He ascribes this to a “retinal overstimulation [that] produces stereoscopic hallucinations and the illusion of chroma.” Unfortunately, when viewed on a digital screen, the optical power of pitch-black paint against whitewashed backgrounds—the canvas, and then the gallery wall—seems to fade away. As Scott himself is colorblind, the colorful afterimages that his paintings generate seem ever more elusive and mysterious in origin. 

—Anna Furman


Michael Scott is on view at Galerie Laurent Strouk, Paris, Apr. 24–May 23, 2015. 


Follow Galerie Laurent Strouk on Artsy.