Nature and the creatures that inhabit its delicate world have always been a fascinating subject for Scott Musgrove (previously covered in HF Vol. 2, 8, 24 and online). With a big solo exhibition coming up at Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York on May 16, we discovered that he has been quite busy, and not only with producing paintings and sculptures. He also recently became a father. As he put the finishing touches on his new work, Musgrove took a few moments to share his thoughts on parenthood, competitive bike racing, and, of course, the balancing act of family and making art. Read the exclusive interview below.
It’s been a couple years since we last caught up with you in Hi-Fructose Vol. 24, and there have been some changes in the Musgrove household. How is it being a dad, and has that changed your work or creative schedule in any way?
Well, like any dad would, I’ll say that being a dad is a wonderful and literally amazing experience. But unlike other dads, I really mean it. Watching a kid grow from a helpless infant to a toddler is kinda like getting a front row seat to evolution itself. The growing, changing, adapting, and learning that happens daily is pretty baffling.
As far as how it has changed my schedule goes, Wilder’s presence hasn’t been disruptive in the way I thought it might be. Other parents may hate to hear this, but he really is just such an easy kid. I mean he’s two years old and has never had a temper tantrum and never even kept us up past midnight, ever. So any sleep deprivation I’ve endured has been elective and my difficulty in getting work done has been because I want to spend time with Wilder and my wife, Gretchen. My studio is on the lower level of our house and if I hear them upstairs having fun, I drop the paintbrush and go join them. And that happens a lot. So I get a lot less work done these days. But the tradeoff is fine with me.
You’re working on a new exhibit of works that will debut at Jonathan Levine Gallery on May 16. This new body of work, titled “Wilder,” is a bit of a departure from your previous works about extinct species. Now, you’re focusing more on the topic of balance in nature, is that correct?
Yeah, that’s true. How much of that change is visually evident in the work remains to be seen, because it’s still me drawing and painting. But I’ve been reading more about the imbalances that climate change is creating and, of course, it’s worrisome. And some of it is just sort of weird, like these huge blooms of jellyfish that are happening because of an increase in ocean temperatures. These massive jellyfish hordes have attacked fish farms, massacring everything in sight. They’ve also clogged up the water-intakes of a nuclear power plant, forcing the plant to shut down. There seem to be an endless number of these unintended consequences of how we live. Part of making some of these animals oversized is just visual, but also they act as representatives of species that will benefit from climate change … but mostly as martyrs for whole species of animals that are being pushed to the edge.
Your son’s name is also Wilder, which is also the title of your new show. Is this body of work showing us a merger in your personal and creative lives in some way?
Well, Wilder is named after my 95-year-old grandmother, whose name is Wilda. She is a pretty normal suburban grandma. But in her younger years (when she was in her seventies) she had a wild streak, like driving a Camaro and shooting guns (not at the same time to the best of my knowledge). Both my wife and I have a real affinity for Wilda so we passed her name on to our son. Although, I’m sure he’ll be horrified to learn someday that he was named after an old lady. But back to your question, having a son now has had less of a direct influence on my work than I would have guessed. It’s not like I had a kid and then was suddenly concerned about the state of the planet and I therefore changed my work. I was already thinking about that stuff. I was more concerned that I might just start painting cute babies, but that hasn’t happened.
What is life like in your studio these days? Are you enjoying any particular music, podcasts , having TV or movies on the background, or even perhaps silence (or baby monitors) while you create?
For the first time, I’ve started watching shows online while I work. I’ve plowed through Peaky Blinders, Happy Valley, Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones, etc. The nice thing is that since I’m also painting, the shows don’t have to be all that great. I can just enjoy them for what they are because I’m not really depending on them for my full entertainment. Painting takes about 40% of my brainpower, a movie or TV show takes up another 30% … and so I guess that leaves about 30% of my brain just sitting there idling, probably shrinking. As far as music goes, I’ve been listening to the new Father John Misty way too much … and of course my favorite band of all time, American Music Club.
Do you have any hobbies or activities outside of family and creating art? How do you balance out the time spent painting or sculpting with family and still stay as active as you do the studio?
My primary activity outside of family and work has been bike racing. I’ve been on a bike racing team for the past 10 years. The years when I race most seriously, it occupies a lot of my free time and makes up the larger part of my social life. During the winter, the training rides are up to 4-5 hours, often in the rain and cold. That tends to build good friendships with the people I train with. The training is hard and the races are hard, but it’s a really fun sport (until you crash). One of the side effects of the team is that I’ve become friends with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. The team is a mixed bag of doctors, engineers, restaurant workers, lawyers, scientists, college students, tech nerds, etc. Since I rarely leave the house other than to get coffee or ride my bike, it’s a good way for me to connect with the outside world a bit. Thankfully, I don’t spend much time with other artists. Those guys are the worst!
Speaking of sculpture, you’re an accomplished artist in that realm, as well (seen here as well as in previous posts here and here). You’ve just released a new, interactive work that looks like a children’s carousel. What is that all about?
This past week, I just finished working on several new pieces with this awesome foundry in Tucson called Metalphysic run by Tony Bayne. They’ve helped me produce all of my bronze sculptures. Most of the new pieces are bronze but one is a fully-functioning and rideable 8-foot-tall carousel. We got ahold of an old, coin-operated kid’s carousel and tore it down to its basic frame and mechanical components. I designed some jellyfish to replace the horses, and the canopy is now a big jellyfish, as well. It’s molded out of fiberglass and has lights and goes round and round. I’ve also created some music and soundscapes that will play as you ride the carousel. All that fun for just 25 cents! It’s called “Sea World” — and people can draw their own conclusions about the wisdom of trying to incarcerate and ride sea creatures.
Before I go, I have to say that working on that carousel and some of the other bronzes have been some of my most fun and satisfying creative projects I’ve ever done. I can’t stress enough just how great, supportive, creative, and talented Tony and all the people at Metalphysic are. I can’t imagine how I’d make some of these pieces without their help. I love just sitting in my studio by myself, painting. But it’s also very satisfying and inspiring to go down to Tucson and work with these awesome people. It really helps round out the experience of being an artist.