The Symbolic Language of Abstraction

THE greatest Abstract Expressionist painters dripped, splattered, threw, and painted a whole new world onto canvas. Jackson Pollock broke with architechtonic space. The swirl of emotion, gesture, and the direct expression of a reality beyond what the senses record fell like rain from his brush. When asked why he did not paint from nature, the story goes, he replied, "I am nature."

It was more than an egotistical assertion. The expression of art could be understood as something more than "art-ificial." After Pollock, artistic expression had to be seen as a natural phenomenon just as grass growing.

The abstractions of Santa Fe artist Sam Scott are different in kind from Pollack's, but they, too, are direct and natural expressions. Scott's work comes out of an immediate response to nature, which is the source of his inspiration. The titles of his paintings, like "Earth Heart," "Pines and Rocks," "Bright Air," and "Like Wild Geese" speak to the natural phenomenon that generate so many of his ideas. He calls it "lyrical expressionism."

But while intuition is an important aspect of his painting, there is deliberate markmaking and intuitive picturemaking. Scott has developed a language of symbols that is instantly recognizable by most viewers, yet it is still mysterious and cunning. A recurring spiral-like form - broken and transformed - recalls ancient petroglyphs, traditional native American forms, Aboriginal art, and Robert Smithson's grand earthwork, "The Spiral Getty."

The spiral may represent a grasp of the eternal. Broken, it seems to suggest that we see only small pieces of the eternal at any one time - yet those pieces are still part of something greater than the sum of its parts.

In a recent interview, Scott discussed his private and universal symbols. He points out that the veins of a leaf are similar to the veins on the back of your hand, to a river delta, to a lighting bolt, and to a galaxy. There is great wonder and power in that pattern because of these associations, and that blazing mark shows up again and again in his work. We all know it when we see it, recognize the pattern immediately because it recurs throughout our lives, though we may fail to stop and think, "leaf, h and, lighting, delta."

A rounded "M" form may call to mind the tablets of the Ten Commandments, birds in flight the way young children draw them, or a sign for mountains.

Yet there is much more to Scott's abstractions than their symbols. His markmaking may appear crude, but it is profoundly sophisticated. The handling of paint is ample, even lavish. The emotional bursts of color may seem brash at first glance, but on closer inspection they prove to be startling, rigorously intelligent, and right. There is just so much to look at in this work - so much more than a first glance can properly take in.

WANT the information to percolate out for a lifetime of enjoyment," Scott says. "If you are going to speak in a language of abstraction, then you are choosing to speak in a language of simultaneous realities. That's the joy and the richness of it. It's like any poem - there is a combination of circumstances. There is mystery: the rarity of a violet meeting a burnt sienna - lyrical and rare color. But [color] may have something to do with a way of understanding light as grace (in Dantesque terms). In othe r words, there may be all kinds of implications that take a while to see.

"I think of myself as a nature painter. What interests me is the idea of using nature as source - with a lyric voice that is essentially a celebratory voice. To rather choose an affirmation of the privilege of consciousness. I view painting as an act of reparation, an act of giving back to life," Scott says.

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