Hearing the words ‘finger painting’ evokes pleasant memories of making an absolute mess in a kindergarten art class and parents vigorously scrubbing away at that bit of paint that simply will not come off. However, one look inside Iris Scott’s studio in Brooklyn will leave you questioning the connotations of naïveté surrounding finger painting. Scott pairs her classical training with the vibrant youthfulness of finger painting to create works that exude texture and movement. She’s a commercial success, too: she and street artist Banksy sell the most prints online per month of any living artist, and she’s even a spokesperson for Band-Aid. Truly the consummate artist.
We caught up with Iris to talk about her debut solo exhibition in New York, the works she produced for that show, and, of course, about finger painting.
Art Zealous: Your instructional videos remind us of the old Bob Ross show. Was he a big influence for you? Do you see yourself as a sort of Bob Ross for this generation?
Iris Scott: Everyone loves Bob Ross. You would have to be a complete humbug to snub that magical little human being. I would be honored to become a Bob Ross of this generation, but there is a long way to go. My hope is that over the next several years I will have the time to put out free instruction onto the internet and leave a legacy of art education. He inspired multiple generations, and I would love to one day do the same. He’s a national treasure.
AZ: Your works frequently take on a very impressionist style. Is this a natural consequence of painting with your fingers, or is this a conscious stylistic decision?
IS: You know what? The impressionism is really more of an accident, since it’s a simple outcome of painting with wide points of contact–my fingers. As my canvases get larger, I imagine the impressionism will in a way fade away because I’ll have more space to go in tightly and paint details.
AZ: You discovered the finger painting technique while studying abroad in Taiwan. What kind of influence did the Eastern art world have on your work?
IS: I don’t really remember seeing Eastern art in the town in which I lived, Kaohsiung. Art museums and galleries were not prevalent. What inspired me in Taiwan was the plethora of art supply stores, the inspiring tropical Taiwanese culture, the low cost of living, and finally having the time in my life to practice painting. Taiwan made my painting career possible because I had a whole year to paint nearly every day. This was how my momentum grew, and, thanks to Facebook, I was able to start selling my little finger paintings online and FedEx them around the world.
AZ: Does the tangible aspect of finger painting create a deeper emotional attachment to your work than if you were painting with brushes?
IS: I think so! With nothing between me and the canvas except a thin layer of a glove, I think I feel more than I felt when I used to paint with brushes. The paint from tube to tube is highly varied, some colors are smooth, some are grainy, some are oily, some are stiff. It’s a gooey mess and I enjoy touching the paint literally.
AZ: How do people react when you tell them you’re a finger painter?
IS: They almost invariably exclaim, “YOU PAINTED THAT WITH YOUR FINGERS?!?” The reactions have never been negative. I think people enjoy learning that I make art in a childlike and approachable way.
AZ: What was it like having your first solo show in NYC at Filo Sofi Arts?
IS: A little dream come true. A New York Solo Show has been on my bucket list since I was in college, and to have it come true was like attending your own funeral. Everyone I love was there to talk about me, haha. It’s such a plus not to be deceased at a time like that.
AZ: Some of your works in the show are prints of your original works which you have embellished with further finger painting. How is this process different from starting with a blank canvas?
IS: The embellished prints at the show are called ‘Artist Proofs.’ No two are the same, so they’re not in numbered editions. I paint only a couple of these a month because they’re time-consuming and challenging. My goal when I embellish a canvas print of an older painting is to improve upon the original painting: to add highlights where I hadn’t chosen to add them in the first run, or to add entirely new features to the landscape. It’s no fun for me to just “add texture” to a print. My goal is selfish; after all, I must entertain myself, and so I add to the Artist Proofs as much jazz (in the form of novel colors) as I can.
AZ: You’ve just finished a major exhibition. How do you celebrate, and where are your favorite places in NYC to do so?
IS: I celebrate with travel. Two days after the show closes I will join my mom and aunt in Hawaii. However, when I stay in town to celebrate, my favorite area of New York is Chinatown.
AZ: Some of the studies for your larger works are collages you made from cutting up images of the original. Can you tell us more about this process? How do you remain detached enough from your work to allow you to change it like that?
IS: I needed a way to reimagine my works, and I thought, what better way than to cut them up? The collage technique also creates a sense of texture, which translates nicely into finger painting. The whole process is actually very cathartic. We are constantly changing, so I try to remain in the present, allowing me to let the past go. This mentality lets me view my work objectively, and move around the ideas without too much judgment. I shuffle the pieces a lot like a psychic shuffles a deck of tarot cards.
AZ: When you get your nails done, is it weirdly meta for you?
IS: Yes, and in a somewhat related vein, I will freak out by hand injuries. The slightest cut on my hand and I’m prone to fainting. So I have to be very careful and lay down if the room starts looking like a tunnel. Thank goodness for Band-Aids!
AZ: Any upcoming projects you would like to share with the readers?
IS: In December, Filo Sofi Arts will present my work as another solo show at one of the fairs in Miami during Basel week. I’m currently working on enormously tall goddess figure painting.
AZ: How can we keep up with your future endeavors?
Iris Scott originals and embellished prints will still be on display on Filo Sofi’s 2nd floor.
Top Image // courtesy of @irisscottart