Art that holds a message

'Monk IV', among a series of busts that Scott sculpted in the mid-90s, is in his 25-year retrospective at the San Luis Obispo Art Center.
'Monk IV', among a series of busts that Scott sculpted in the mid-90s, is in his 25-year retrospective at the San Luis Obispo Art Center. PHOTOS BY DAVID MIDDLECAMP

The art of David Settino Scott at the San Luis Obispo Art Center reveals a man who takes life seriously.

An inner panel of his painting, “The Practices of Art,” is filled with human figures floating through space, Scott’s version of Paradise. “We could have heaven on earth if we’d get away from our death squads, killing each other,” he said.

The panels behind it reveal a grotesque inferno, with a painting emerging from one figure’s mouth.

“This is me, watching the carnival, like I do when I wake up in the morning and see what’s going on in the world.” What he sees are the horrors of wars, victims and suffering.

For Scott, it is essential to create art like this that contains a message.

“I’m very content-oriented,” he said. “The idea becomes what compels me to do a work. Then I can’t wait to just get into my studio to work on it.”

His exhibit, “California Primitive,” spans the last 25 years, when he moved to this area to devote himself to his art full time.

“I was passionately in love with art” from an early age, he said. He left home at age 16 to join the Navy, then studied art briefly after his discharge.

Even working for a decade in Hollywood on props for “Star Wars” and other films wasn’t something he envisioned for his future.

In “Amor Fati,” which Scott translates as “I embrace, I love my fate,” a self-portrait shows him holding a small boat, full of artists he admires.

“It was like I was going to get in the boat with these people and make a commitment, and I did,” Scott said. “I quit the film industry and moved to Morro Bay.”

Scott’s subjects include sculptures of monks who set themselves on fire during the Vietnam War and oil paintings of slave ships. Whoopie Goldberg bought several of the slave ship paintings for herself and friends.

Scott isn’t always satisfied with a painting, such as a large one he did of tanks attacking trees, which he decided was a stupid idea. “I lost interest in it,” he said. As he started to obliterate it, the tanks became phantasmagorical shapes, so Scott pursued that concept, interspersing the spirits of monks among the tanks abandoned in the jungle, for “Ghost Tanks and Bonzes.”

Scott occasionally delves into playful topics, such as his Playboy fold-outs, one for each month, although as with all of his nudes, he intends respect for women and honors their vulnerability.

He had a good time rounding up art for this show, he said, recalling especially a trip to Malibu to retrieve a triptych he sold 20 years ago and visiting with the clients. Gordon Fuglie, who curated Scott’s current show, accompanied him.

It was Fuglie’s idea to title the show “California Primitive,” as the term “primitive” means more than Grandma Moses paintings.

Now and then Scott paints flowers or other natural subjects. “I get to relax. I don’t have to have an idea. I just want to make pure beauty,” Scott said. “But ideas give you juice.”