Monday, January 15, 2007

Visions of surreal dystopia

JefferyScott1019VisionsMechanismSometimes I feel like I'm the last person on Earth to discover the hot new artists/authors that everyone's talking about. Case in point: Jeffery Scott (1019). Who is this guy, and where did he come from? More importantly, why didn't anyone tell me about him? Well, thanks to the straightforwardly-named Nude Art Blog I am now aware of his existence on this temporal plane, as well as his MySpace page, his one model place profile and most importantly, his new book Visions from Within the Mechanism: The Industrial Surrealism of Jeffery Scott (1019). Needless to say, this one's already on order from Amazon.


I haven't been this jazzed about an artist since a certain fellow by the name of John Picacio started lighting up the literary world with his distinctive approach to book covers, and certainly Scott shares some stylistic similarities with Picacio. Both, for example, make use of photo manipulation in their art. But whereas Picacio comes at the subject matter as a traditional artist using traditional media (at least the majority of the time), whereas Scott comes at the subject matter as a photographer using photo manipulation to push his work in more artistic directions. Some of the verisimilitude Scott achieves in his work is downright disturbing, especially with his sepia toned, distressed "old tyme photographs." Consider "Aristocracy 2032: Mistress Lin Unpluged from Securities for the Sake of Unconditional Love" above left. A haunting, poignant piece that effectively blurs the line between reality and illusion. The title may be a bit pretentious, but it serves the mood of the image well. The retro-future aspect of this piece (and the others on his site where he utilizes the same technique) struck quite a nerve with me, and it took a bit of thinking until I could put my finger on it. But finger it I did--the work of the brothers Quay, specifically, some dark, moody stop-motion animation sequences they produced for MTV in the 80s:

That stuff stopped me in my tracks, made me believe for years that is was the work of some disturbed, visionary filmmaker from the 1920s who was channeling Tim Burton's darker impulses well before there even was a Tim Burton. So for Scott to push those same buttons after all this time, I say bully for him. And just to show he's not a one-trick pony with a nifty gimmick, the companion piece above right, "Elevation on the Wings of Reality from Pre-Conceived Notions," is exuberant and uplifting leavened with just a hint of trepidation. Gorgeous artworks, both of them.


There are quite a few more stunning, disturbing and amusing images at Scott's sites listed above, including a handsome number available as prints. Surreal technocratic cheesecake is well-represented, but many veer into disturbing horror and skewed Orwellian social commentary. Fans of Frank Miller's Sin City in particular will find something of keen interest. Two pieces that well-represent Scott's keen eye for fictional detail are "Inner Truth Struggles in the Belly of the Beast" and "Building a Better War Machine," above left and right, respectively. This may sound counter-intuitive, but I believe what makes these so powerfully effective is Scott's ability to strip the humanity from his photographic subjects, making them appear, well, artificial. Take "Inner Truth" for example. It looks more like a mannequin, a wax figure, than a real human. Perhaps a profoundly dedicated airbrush artist spent several weeks crafting those visuals out of whole cloth. Nope. That's a real woman at the core of the image (or rather, real women) and the end result is more startling when the viewer understands that. Ditto for "War Machine." The presentation is so slick, so hyper-textured that the first though to come to mind is "Which rendering program did he use?" The flesh-fantasy interface is so seamless that it's hard to fathom any part of the work starting out as organic.

Despite all of that, the one thing that stumped me more than anything else was why I hadn't seen his work gracing the covers of books other than his own? Lou Anders, for one, is an editor I suspect would find some nifty uses for this guy's talent. So I decided to pose the question directly to Scott himself:
"Book cover?'s something I have always wanted to do...but have (as of yet) never been approached for."

Let me go out on a big limb here and say I do believe those days are numbered. You do remarkable work, Jeffery Scott, and even laggards like myself are noticing.

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