Here we chat to American Artist – Scout Zabinski – about her practice, inspirations and what she is excited about in the future.
Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to become an artist?
I started painting in high school but at the time, it was just a required class that all students had to take. I went to a very academically rigorous boarding school and moved away from home when I was 13. Almost immediately, I was obsessed with the feeling of painting, reminding me of Bob Ross shows I would watch with my Grandpa John when I was a kid. But I was a nerd. No one in my family had ever had a career in the art world or knew anything about it. I was trying to get into Ivy League colleges and the thought of becoming an artist never occurred to me at that time despite taking an AP Studio Art class and devoting all my free time to painting. It just did not seem like it was in the cards for me. However, after taking an Art History course my senior year I realized I wanted to have the freedom to study whatever I wanted. That is why I went to NYU Gallatin. I created my own major, concentrating in Art History, Psychology, Post-colonial Feminism and literature from the Renaissance and 19th century, which consisted of works on domestic life. My studies really informed the way my work evolved. The turning point for my artistic career and taking myself seriously happened when I became more aware of how people a few years older than me were making it big. I have always been adamant about finding a career that I want to do everyday because 80% of your life is your work, leaving only 10% for childhood and retirement. It becomes urgent when you think about it that way to do something you love. I saw the life I wanted for myself and thought if they made it happen, I could too. I didn’t realize at the time how much of a rare blessing is it to actually make a career in this tiny art world. I made my first nude self-portrait in 2019, which is on view now at Ross + Kramer in a group show with some more recent works. This piece began the series I’m still working on. I paint nude psychological self-portraits that exist as very specific reminders of moments in this larger time-frame that’s my life; a punctuated equilibrium if you will.
What are the key themes in your artwork?
My work is about trauma and recovery, self-reflection/image, addiction, abuse, eating disorders and the chaos of the mind in general. I paint what I know. After studying psychology, I realized the art I wanted to create was much too personal to put on anyone else’s body. My paintings have always been self-portraits even when they weren’t illustrations of my physical form. I think this is true for every artist. No matter what you paint, you expose a bit of yourself. However, when I realized my work functioned as a sort of therapy and meditation for me, it became clearer that it only made sense to paint myself because then I could be completely free with what I chose to say. No one could tell me how abrasive, condemning, or honest I was to be about myself.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from every day I live. A lot of my paintings are either psychologically driven renditions of memories or feelings I have. Every time I notice something that makes me uncomfortable or brings up my trauma I try and imagine it as a painting. I think it helps me relive my past but in a much safer and contained way.
What is your creative process when creating an artwork?
Each painting starts as a little string of sentences in my notes app. Then I source images and do a nude photo-shoot which later gets poorly patched together in the Photoshop app on my phone. This is kind of a sketch for me in a sense but allows me to play with backgrounds, colors, and other variables that I can’t necessarily control in a nude photo-shoot or graphite drawing. To touch on the nude photo-shoot a bit, I only shoot with a few people who are experienced in that realm. I’ve had some bad experiences that have definitely made me much more wary to allow people into that space. I actually did my first shoot to get over my body dysmorphia and history with anorexia, which I almost died from in high school. It’s a weird and vulnerable experience to be shot naked. But I think it creates a level of vulnerability and recognition of the gaze in my work that I couldn’t achieve right now otherwise. Then I start painting. That’s where the fun begins. Let me just say, no one would want to stare at themselves naked all day. Doesn’t matter what type of rockin body they think they do or don’t have. That’s where the anxiety and meditation kicks in. It’s like my own personal therapy I go through every day. I stress about getting things perfect because I’m a perfectionist. Every time I start a painting, I’m terrified I won’t be able to make it as good as the last, but inevitably I prove myself wrong. It’s kind of beautiful.
What do you do to become inspired again when you face a creative block?
Thankfully, I have a list of about 40 paintings I want to make in the future and don’t struggle much with this. Painting yourself really eases the pressure on finding inspiration. I find something interesting and just wonder how I would situate myself in that world. However, in the past, I would smoke and get high to enhance the creative process. I don’t do that anymore because I was too dependent on the relief smoking offered my mind. I realized I need to sit with the discomfort I feel and in that, I find I make my best work.
Which artists have especially inspired you?
I have about three categories of people who have inspired me.
I would say that my biggest inspiration is Frida Kahlo. She made it safe for me to paint myself and talk about my trauma.
I’m inspired by friends of mine, who are also my contemporaries. Artists such as Julie Severino, Bony Ramirez, and Erik Foss. I look up to them both as people and artists.
Also, artists I don’t know personally but find myself wishing to be like them one day. I’ll always be the one to fan girl over their heroes. Some include Sarah Slappey, Ana Benaroya, Van Minnen, Benjamin Spiers etc. etc. This category also contains the vast number of Renaissance artists who baffled me early on when I visited Italy as a child and in high school. Bernini and Botticelli were always standouts.
Who are you currently listening to while creating art?
I listen to the same music over and over again in the studio. Specific artists really get me into the zone but also rest my nerves. Here a brief list I HIGHLY recommend: Nina Simone (of course), Fiona Apple, Prince, Anna Domino, Julee Cruise, Christine and the Queens, Roseaux, and because I’m a millennial and discovered her late… Lana DelRay.
What influence does modern culture have on your artwork?
I think it effects my work as much as it effects me and to be honest, I sort of live in a 70s/80s dream capsule. My life has always been a sort of self-induced bubble because of my social anxiety. I try not to listen to the happenings of pop culture. Yet, I would say that the narrative of women’s bodies being objectified in social media and mass culture definitely influences how my figures inhabit their spaces. I’m extremely fascinated with how music, media and art have changed the way we relate to our physical forms.
Are there any tools or mediums that you would love to experiment with?
Yes so many! I made some ceramic works in college during an elective course and fell in love with the medium. I would love to get back into it once I have the time, space, and money to afford another practice. There are actually a few large-scale sculptural exhibitions and installations I have planned for the coming years, but right now I’m focusing on the paintings.
What changes are you looking forward to in the art industry post-pandemic and what advice can you pass on to other emerging artists during this time?
I think it’s great that people are really coming together again in the art world and have expressed some very vigorous efforts to create opportunities for emerging artists post pandemic. I’ve met some of the best people in my life right now through the art world and this only seems to be accelerating now that everything is open again.
My best advice for emerging artists is to show up. Show up everyday to your studio. No matter what, if you get stuff done or sit on the floor, just show up. Also, go to that opening you heard about. Connections are everything in this business and you never know who you will meet. I had a hard time with the second part because I love to be alone but I can honestly say I’ve never regretted showing up. I always am surprised by what I gain at these events, any insight or new connection is inexplicably better than being disappointed from missing out. This is especially important if you, like me, had no formal introduction to the art world, via art school or family history. You have to pave your own road.
Can you share with us any exciting future plans you are currently working on?
Heck yeah I can! I will be in a very exciting group show with Ross +Kramer in the Hamptons in August. This show is all works on paper and I made my first paintings on paper for the exhibition. I am also participating in Independent Art Fair with a very close friend’s/mentor’s gallery, which I will formally announce soon so keep a look out. Also, I have a group show with the new gallery Seasons LA, that former director of Over the Influence, Guy Rusha, is opening this September. That will open right after Independent so I get to jet out to LA very quickly. As for 2022, I will start off the year by sending some paintings to Latina, Italy for a group show at Monti 8.
Writing all that out actually made it all the more real. I’m so blessed to be able to say I have a career that revolves around doing something I love. I won’t take it for granted for a single day and just want to end this by saying thank you to everyone at Art Gorgeous for this opportunity. Your support is what makes this real.
You can find more about Scout Zabinski via her website : www.scoutzabinski.com
And follow her journey via Instagram : @szcout