Scott Lurain: The Artistry of Engagement

With His First Major Exhibition at The Saginaw Art Museum, Painter, Sculptor, Writer & Musician Scott Lurain Connects a Tapestry of Mixed-Media Masterpieces

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 791   By: Robert E Martin

29th May, 2014     0

“Of the many species populating the planet, Man is the only one that says he believes in a God and then acts as if He doesn’t exist.” – Hunter S. Thompson • The Rum Diaries


Scott Lurain is an extraordinarily gifted artist committed to an expanded vision of commitment that extends beyond the parameters of the canvases that he paints upon and materials that he incorporates into his creations. Over the past ten years he has had three studio gallery spaces of his own and displayed his work in a dozen different shows and galleries, several in the Traverse City area; but with his current exhibition True Stories, which is on display at The Saginaw Art Museum through June 28th, Lurain is now enjoying the fruits of his labor with his first major gallery showing.

Featuring over 100 hundred works in a variety of media including acrylic, oil, wood, glass, steel, aluminum, found objects, and Michigan alabaster, True Stories is a multi-faceted compendium of the artist’s’ pivotal work spanning the past decade, inspired by experiences that informed the artist’s life and installed as a collection of stories ranging from the spiritual – revealing images of angels and fragments of the cosmos – to the controversial – depicting distillations of the artist’s interpretation of current events, musical pop culture, and political moments that have remolded life in America as we know it.

By rendering the multi-faceted connections of his artistic vision by linking his expressive talents with divergent mediums into a coherent theme, Lurain uses visual imagery to unveil secrets and connect the dots between loneliness and fulfillment, corruption and consequence, evasion and engagement; and in turn, reveals clues for the viewer to unlock that leads to a deeper understanding of the seemingly incomprehensible forces driving humanity.

Political elements and themes abound in his work: in his piece Controlled Burn, a group of smiling firemen emerge from a building; in God & Man Lurain takes his intense interest in the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and uses Van Gogh’s profoundly personal work Starry Night as a trampoline for his own quest into the relationship between God and man and placement within the world; and in my favorite piece of this exhibition – Gulf Swan – he paints an exquisite swan flying above waves of the Florida coast with the definition of the waves and swan created by rendering black stippled droplets that now permeate the Gulf of Mexico thanks to the BP oil spill, creating a conflux of emotion that fuses the equanimity of nature with a benign and unavoidable sense of outrage.

Pretty heady stuff. But as Lurain points out: “I’m a storyteller and that is the most pivotal characteristic of my work.”

Regarding the origins of his pursuit at rendering these multi-faceted connections to his artistic vision Lurain says that he began his pursuit with no formal skill involved. Given the desire to keep his work open and seemingly random, there was similarly no particular favoritism exhibited between painting & sculpting that drew Lurain’s interest when he first commenced his artistic odyssey.  

“I was self-educated and would have to say that in terms of education, I graduated from the school of hard knocks. My two most vivid influences and memories with creativity was when I began making snow angels as a kid. I liked the motion of the images that I would carve into the snow and the materials were free. The second memory is when my father made this incredible sandbox that was lined in brick and vividly painted. It was constructed with 4-star materials and I lived in that thing, so those two moments were inspirational to me at an early age.”

Lurain says that he has always worked with materials that surround him, mainly with two & three-dimensional materials, which had far more influence on him than his 9th grade art class.  But at what point did he step up his game and attempt to integrate these divergent talents into one coherent vision that would encompass his tone?

“All of my best work over the past ten years is encompassed in this show,” he explains. “After I graduated from High School and throughout the following decade, I was seriously devoted to music and practicing the guitar. I was very drawn to it and my last year of high school when everybody was college bound, I realized that I wasn’t student material – my mind was elsewhere.”

The serendipitous turn came when Scott was talking college prep classes and by fluke was mistakenly placed into an advanced art class instead of a Spanish class. “The teacher was a sculptor and had gone to Alabaster, Michigan that summer, which is near Tawas,” relates Scott.  “U.S. Gypsum mines alabaster rock there, which is crushed and turned into sheet rock; or artists like me take it and use it for sculpting. It’s very unique and coveted and this teacher brought back a station wagon full of it; so once again I had free materials to work with and I started pounding on that instead of my guitar.”

“I wanted to go to Michigan State University, but my grade point wasn’t good enough. However, through my art an involved counselor brought down someone from Michigan State who said I possessed considerable talent, so I was granted admission. I attended college for two days and started skipping classes and playing my guitar again,” laughs Scott.

So what came first: the chicken or the egg? Given his passion for music that in turn inspired his passion for art, would his talents for artistic rendering have surfaced without his deep passion for music?

“I’ve thought about that, too,” reflects Scott. “In terms of formal structure how I got from point A to B may have appear to be very serendipitous, but in hindsight was incredibly laid out. In high school I loved sports and played football and was on the swim team – all of those activities taught me what practice and discipline was, which mirrored the self-discipline one needs to succeed with any art form.  It’s all aligned to the love of what you do – the practice and repetition. Music brought to me local concentration that I never would have experienced otherwise.  When you’re doing a real piece of artwork, as musicians say, the wind is blowing right. All of these moments were stepping stones that I embraced.”

Eventually, having drifted away from practicing music to perfecting his visual artistry, Lurain again shifted over to writing, which eventually became the center of everything he was doing. Many of Scott’s stronger pieces carry musical themes; and one artist that he particularly focuses upon is musician/filmmaker/artist and songwriter David Byrne from the groundbreaking new wave band Talking Heads. Not only did Byrne inspire some of Scott’s signature work such as Puzzling Evidence, but he helped create the theme that would provide the framework for Scott’s debut exhibition: True Stories.

“Byrne is somebody that I appreciate very much,” reflects Scott. “True Stories is a prophetic and haunting film based on history, and right around the time that 9/11 happened at the World Trade Center, I realized it’s not just one thing that causes these catastrophes, but a whole pile of things. That’s when I sold my business. I had a good business in the aftermarket for metals, so when I had the opportunity to sell my company in the Livonia area, 9/11 happened around that time. I took the money and bought a building in downtown Plymouth and created a downtown gallery and coffee studio. I gutted the building, did a complete renovation on it, and on every level created that business from the ground up, which lasted for about a decade. I took the money from the sale of that business to focus entirely on developing my 3-dimensional artwork.”

“Whenever I’m working in my studio space and trying to concentrate, the only absolute that I must have within that environment is for my TV set to be constantly on – this is my drug of choice,” explains Lurain. “People think I’m kidding when I say this, but when I work the current events of the day flow through me. You obviously can’t be physically in touch with the entire world, but with TV the world comes into your living room and washes over you like a toilet that won’t shut off until you jiggle the handle.”

“Some pieces take longer than others, but most of my best work is done quickly when that wind of inspiration kicks in,” states Scott. “I’m not really big on impressionistic art because with doodling things get muddy for me. This isn’t a judgment on other artistic styles, but for me personally I prefer a more direct approach – like a strong 4-minute rock & roll song where you’re in and out. I can spend a little or a lot of time with my pieces, because multi-level is not only a technique, but what the piece is telling you.”

“Gulf Swan” is probably my most angry piece in this entire show,” comments Scott. “When the British Petroleum oil spill was happening I was watching BP fill up these pristine waters and knew what the outcome was going to be. Eventually BP would paint themselves as the town heroes, yet everything stunk to high hell and still does and 20 years from now when people are eating three-headed fish from the Gulf we will know. So with Gulf Swan, you can look at it as a calming piece of beauty and then when you stare at a deeper level, it’s very unsettling. That’s why when I do title a piece I like it to very approachable. I’ve met artists who’s work titles are so elitist and removed from anything I can relate to that I would rather leave a work untitled than step into that terrain.”

“For years I’ve been asked what my ‘mission statement’ is,” notes Scott. “And my massive ego says doesn’t the work tell you that? But eventually I did develop one – not just for me but also for everyone: At the moment of commitment the universe conspires to fulfill you…and all major credit cards accepted. I think everyone should embrace that mission statement.”

As for his future goals, Scott points to his consistent interest with the artistry of writing. “Honestly, writing has been the cornerstone and most important creative work that I’ve done, bar none. I enjoy my visual artwork and the guitar taught me a lot about discipline, but for almost four decades now I’ve been working on a piece that I wrote that is still evolving and is now at the point where it will either come to fruition or not.  It’s a story that should be on the screen and I’ve engaged in different formats with it over the years and it’s called Gold Top: A Dream Come True. This piece and title has been my mantra since 1977 when I first began work on it and flowed through my whole development as an artist and I knew when it started gushing through me I would know it was time to kick it out the door. That time is now.”

In terms of new work, Scott recently completed a fresh sculpture entitled ‘The Iron Butterfly’ that was inspired by the gardens at The Saginaw Art Museum. “It’s all change and metamorphosis, which is happening at this museum right now,” he reflects.  Scott also was commissioned to construct the new flagpole sculpture that sits outside the newly refurbished exterior of the museum.

Similarly, Scott is equally impressed with Saginaw Art Museum Director Stacey Gannon and her own passionate engagement with the community.  “I am also seriously involved with developing an idea that I have called the Hot Art Project. I’ve created at least two dozen contemporary pieces that are very affordable with 100% of the proceeds affiliated with the Father Fred Foundation in Traverse City.  I would like to develop a similar organization for this area that would have all the monies going to home heating assistance for struggling people and families. One thing I’ve learned is that you can be hungry but everything is a bitch when you’re cold. A lot of people are paying utility bills and not eating and I would like to coral other artists and creative people to contribute to this project. I’d like to anchor it in Saginaw because there is both a need for it, plus I feel it is very do-able.”

And as is true with any artist worth the weight of merit, Scott remains deeply engaged and committed to his newly adopted community of Saginaw. “On a creative level the bottom line for me without question is that an artist should try to make people think about things. Not necessarily educate; but if I know anything at this old age it’s that true art – real art – is service.”

“Art should be engaging.”


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