Often in the desert, wayfinding becomes imperative. Though land and sky remain clear demarcations, the self and the soil can begin to blur. In its reaching expanse of arid frugal desolation, one can delve into the lush, ruminative spaces that lie inward and get lost. It may be posited that this is what happened to Chad Leon Scott.
Even the roughest of motions—spinning, dancing, running, juggling—when engaged in with repetition and diligence, can instill in the individual a sense of tranquility. On occasion, this has happened to Chad Leon Scott.
Children, at their best, cannot delineate between life and play. The great ardor of existence is well personified through relentless youth. Left to their own devices, children spill outward into the world oblivious to its dire nature, drifting through precarity as just another game. This too has happened to Chad Leon Scott.
Seven Years in the Desert is a distillate of Scott’s septennial life between Pacific and Gulf coasts. His work here is stellar. Upon initial viewing, Seven Years looks like an easy read. Large color fields of varying gradation and tone hang along the walls of the Sahara West Library with cloud forms rendered out of neon floating just off the concrete floor. The space as a whole feels like some appeal to deserts, the feckless blue sky peppered with drifting nimbi, each a radiant surprise, and if that were all the work provided it would be this journalist’s favorite exhibition of 2022.
There’s something greater at work here than a portrait of what lies above the landscape. The way the work is hung in large columns, the gradients and the color fields are reminiscent of abstractionists like Kline, Newman, and Rothko. Scott’s work is most reminiscent of the experience of the Rothko Chapel in Houston (where Scott obtained his doctorate in sociology). The Rothko Chapel is referred to here as experience, not art, because it so saturates the participant it supersedes the simple notion of a painting. Scott has managed to generate a similar experience while managing to adhere to the aesthetics of Las Vegas.
“Just because we move in circles does not mean we have to continuously retread the same ground”
—Chad Allen Scott
A recommendation on viewing large colorfield artwork: Begin with a deep breath while viewing the work from a distance. Maneuver your body and head until the image consumes your field of vision. This part is important, so no shirking. Take another breath, minimize your blinking, hold yourself there, and let the color dissolve into you. Hold this action for as long as you can. This is meditative, a dialogue between you, the artist, and eternity. Notice the subtleties in tone, brilliance, shade, and in the case of Scott’s work, texture. It is in the texture that you will notice the departure from other colorfield works, and the beginning of a conversation on play. The large color forms that Scott has produced are made with ballpoint pen (Bic to be precise) on paper. Millions of radial markings, each one a hair’s width coalescing to a greater whole. The small depressions and scars you typically get from ball point pen render the work sculptural. A saturation of rich, deep blue we take for granted when filling out a tax form is overwhelming when the size of a refrigerator. Scribbles melting into oceans, capturing some childlike whimsy, and some ritual dance, the movements a looping of the arm, tilting of the torso just off the hip all stochastically engaged to render the final image. This naive incorporation of play manages to infuse it with the kind of gravity and tranquility that exists in the Rothko Chapel, which makes for sacred space. And that implies that play is sacred.
“I started thinking sociologically about interactions and the idea of individuals,” Scott said in a recent conversation. “An individual mark versus the collective. And once that individual becomes amalgamated into a collective it transforms into something other than itself. It goes from line to field.”
All substantial art-making begins with the artist and ends with the collective. We the audience are trapped in between, as we are in relation to heaven and earth. Artists at their greatest make work for themselves, and in the engagement of themself alight on the intangible and unknowable, relaying that point of contact to the rest of us. It borders on absurd to think a man in a studio with a fistful of pens is engaged in a deeply meditative practice. Still, that is what Scott has done.
Most of Scott’s previous work is intensely political, certainly a result of his sociological investments, and there are many impactful pieces in his catalog that speak to the many conundrums of our discontent political era. In this work, there is a slight political bent—with the same childish scribbles that release some of the pretension of large colorfield work without removing any of its profundity. The artist’s materials and method are democratizing. Anyone can scribble with a ballpoint pen. It is a common mark-making item we all have access to, a populist art material if there ever was one. Whatever perspective we have on Scott’s work, it’s refreshing to see such an exceptional view on place, self, and action.
Chad Scott’s solo exhibition Seven Years in the Desert is on view at the Sahara West Library in Las Vegas through Feb. 25 with a reception Thursday Dec.15, 5-7pm.
Images courtesy of Las Vegas-Clark County Library Division