John Scott is a Toronto-based artist who has been working 401 Richmond for 15 years. He was born in Windsor, Ontario in 1950. He was the one of the first recipients of the Governor General’s Award for Art in 2000 and exhibited in Canada, Amsterdam, U.S. and England. Scott is presently a professor at OCAD University and represented by Nicholas Metivier Gallery. Currently, he’s preparing for a retrospective called Fearful Symmetry: The Art of John Scott organized by the Faulconer Gallery.
I look for powerful icons. I drew the Dark Commander from Don Giovanni. The Dark Commander is the one who pulls Don Giovanni’s soul down to hell. I really like that. It gets at the heart of the matter. I looked up a bunch of recreations from different operas and I mixed them together to get my version.
The bunny in my work is an icon too. He’s different. He’s sort of a wimp. I like him a lot. I was drawing war machines and then I started living with this woman and her kid. I felt more humanized. I was worried about them and so the bunny-man started appearing. Now I only live there part-time so I don’t draw the bunny-men as much. There’s something humanizing about living with a family and it made me want to have a vehicle that I could address more human issues directly.
I used to work in a zoology building and rabbits are constantly being tested in one form or another. There’s blood work, liver work, and brain work on rabbits and mice. They suffer under the thumb of man constantly. It’s hard to draw a mouse so I chose rabbits. I converted them. I wanted to draw a human as rabbit–a human as a test lab animal. Something that could be experimented upon constantly.
I’m working on this other piece, Europe, that’s a remake of a piece I did a long time ago. It has to be re-fabricated. It’s made out of aluminum, steel and wood. There’s a lot of construction involved in the retrospective. Europe is a big rotating fan that actually turns into a swastika and back into a fan with the use of a strobe light. It was really impressive in person. It showed at The Power Plant. It was the perfect place to show it. It cast a shadow behind it hat was 30 feet high.
This is how I lost the original: This guy kept bugging me to use it in a film. He was making a film about me. I said, ‘No, you can’t use it,’ but he kept bugging me. We argued and argued and argued and I finally gave in. We finished shooting at about four o’clock in the morning. He left it on the back loading dock downstairs and drove off. Then the garbage men came, picked it up and threw it away. That was the end of Europe. That was 20 years ago. I don’t think about it anymore.
The piece came from traveling through Europe and I realized that my train to Documenta was filled with guys that were coming back from a soccer game. They were all fascists. They were skinheads singing fascist songs and had swastikas. It seemed to me that Europe was still filled with fascism, only it was invisible. That’s what I wanted my piece Europe to be about: the invisibility of fascism.
I don’t even think the piece should be called Europe any more. It used to make sense. Fascism is more universal. People don’t realize that the fascism you have to worry about isn’t wearing leather and carrying swastikas, it’s much more subtle, it’s not dressing up the same way. I think a lot of exists in this country and especially in the States.
You try to have your art speak for you when you’re not there. If someone can get the idea right then you’re on the right track. You’ve succeeded.
–John Scott, as told to Studio Beat
photos by Lauren Barless