More Than Portrait-Deep

Emily Scott combines realistic nudes with incongruous backgrounds

In her new show at Kleven Contemporary, Life Room-Blue Screen, Emily Scott paints nudes in a traditional, yet unidealized manner reminiscent of Lucian Freud, or perhaps Alice Neel. However, Scott’s colorful and irreverent backgrounds collide with the stodginess of the discipline, creating a sense of dynamism. It’s a great homecoming for the ex-pat’s first return visit to Las Vegas in nearly two years.

The Vegas native credits UNLV professor Mary Warner for nurturing her love of portrait painting and setting her artistic trajectory. After Scott graduated with a BFA in painting, she relocated to Dublin, Ireland, where she was invited to join the weekly painting sessions at the prestigious Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts. These intense, eight-hour sessions taught Scott how to let go of the polished, “perfectionist” finish of her previous practice and embrace “a cross-hatched, painterly style.” The academy focuses on a traditional method of portrait painting (read: stuffy), but Scott blossomed under the discipline. She produced one nude portrait a week at the academy.

Scott’s paintings were incomplete without backgrounds, so she decided to make “blue screen” settings based on her impressions of the model’s poses. The result mixes the figurative and the fanciful. For example, a portrait of a paunchy male is combined with a background of children’s cereal boxes. Her sitter quite simply reminded her of cereal. From that association, her mind made more connections. For example, the Trix rabbit is annihilated, cartoon-style, with “x”s for eyes, his disembodied head fallen from the cereal box. “I’ve always hated the Trix rabbit,” she laughs. Other models inspire Mondrian-like geometrics, a swimming pool and the El Cortez casino sign.

The Royal Hibernian Academy also influenced the diminutive size of Scott’s new works. All are done on small-scale, easily portable canvas board, which is well suited to the small exhibition space at Kleven Contemporary. As opposed to Americans’ taste for large paintings, Scott says that both Irish artists and patrons prefer the petite because space is at a premium. However, that doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Irish buyers. In Dublin, Scott sells her work in the four-digit range and regularly works on high-end commissions.

Scott has managed to successfully combine the best of both worlds, old and new. A spraoi (pronounced spree) is the Irish Gaelic word for celebration, and it seems appropriate to call Scott’s new work a spraoi of Dublin- and Las Vegas-inspired contemporary portraiture, color, subconscious narrative, and pop-kitsch. Check out her show if you can.

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