Inside the Mind of Artist Scott Sawtell

I would like to provide some random thoughts to help you understand what I am thinking about when creating my paintings. It is not intended to explain the work. Please feel free to take from the work what you need or want.

In all the greatest myths, before being lunged into the magical realms of Oz, or Wonderland, or the Fortress of Solitude, heroes often need to traverse through a jarring, spectacular event. Dorothy needed to leave her humdrum life in Kansas through a tornado, Alice fell through a tree, and Clark Kent walked through the barren Arctic. For me the confusion of being an artist is deciding what the artwork is: Is it Oz, or is it the tornado? My favourite artworks as a viewer have always taken me somewhere unexpected, but my favourite artworks have simultaneously never been conclusive. John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, one of my favourite experiences with music, may be like Oz where it takes me to unforeseen places, but it is also like the tornado because with every listen it always takes me to different places. The ground seems to shift every time I listen to it.

Undoubtedly, I view the act of making as being akin to these in-between spaces. It certainly feels like a tornado sometimes (or falling through a hole, or wandering the Artic looking for the place to throw your crystal down!).  I think often of my paintings as intermediate spaces. All paintings just by virtue of being painted are on the line between the real and the imagined. My particular paintings are often concerned with the mixture of memory and childhood, stemming from my relationships and experiences with my children and my role as “Dad”, which was also initiated by the recent illness and passing of my own father.

The hypnagogic stage is the stage between being awake and being asleep. I have asked other insomniacs about this stage and everyone seems to have a different sense of what it is like, although me and all my “Somiacs” spend a lot of time there. My experience is the cacophony of everyday thoughts tend to mix together and become a buzz, like when you are between radio stations. Sometimes a station (the waking thoughts) become louder and clearer and you wake up, and sometimes the station fades away. At the same time a light with a picture appears in the distance. Imagine seeing a drive-in movie from very far away and you will get the idea. To get to sleep I often imagine myself in a boat and row towards the dreams and away from the thoughts. When I have Insomnia I spend a great deal of time in this lucid dreaming state, where my consciousness and my dreams intermingle and compete. This experience mirrors my approach to painting, where unconscious movement gives way to conscious intent, and then the dance between the unconscious and conscious continues, both taking the lead, until the two feel “balanced”.  

Rowing in that boat, between the world and dreams, seems like a pretty apt metaphor for art, whether in making or viewing. It can be a reaction, a protest, a wish, a coping mechanism, or a celebration.  My favourite thing about showing my paintings is that they might have been made by me and I may have had my reasons for making them, but what really completes them is what you bring of yourself to them and your interpretation of them.


-Scott Sawtell