DRESDEN – Scott Elliot needed a creative outlet.
A carpenter by day and musician by night, Elliot found himself without much work when the pandemic hit in March 2020. No construction jobs. No appearances. Not even rehearsals.
The 62-year-old had also had heart surgery a few years earlier and was “scared to death” of COVID-19 from an early age, so he didn’t venture far. The first time he and his wife went anywhere in those early months was to visit (outside) a friend and fellow musician, Doug Gimbel, in Boothbay. Gimbel is also a painter and sculptor.
“We talked about painting, and I said, ‘I think I’d like to try that,'” Elliot said.
Gimbel told him to come back anytime.
So Elliot did.
Gimbel set up two easels in his studio and filled a glass palette with paint, which he placed between them. The two put on masks and spent a few hours painting. It became a once a week thing.
“I found I couldn’t wait to come back. I dreamed about it,” Elliot said.
Eventually Gimbel told him he could come as often as he wanted.
So Elliot did.
In fact, he hasn’t stopped painting since he got into it on a whim two and a half years ago with no training. The walls of his Dresden home, just south of Gardiner, overlooking the Eastern River, are filled with his work, colorful acrylic-on-canvas paintings that can best be characterized as an Abstract-Expressionist style. They feel both familiar and completely original.
“I think it was easy for him to find his voice as a painter because he’s just authentic,” Gimbel said of his friend. “He’s a real creative.”
Elliot’s work is also starting to get noticed, partly because other artists just can’t stop talking about it. He did a local show at Slates, a restaurant in Hallowell, and had pieces in the year-end show Made in Maine at the Maine Art Gallery in Wiscasset last month.
But even before that, many of his friends – artists themselves – bought up his paintings. Elliot thought they were just being nice.
“People don’t just buy because they’re friends, they buy because it’s really good,” said Tom Pirozzoli, a friend and fellow artist who gave Elliot an easel so he could set up his own workspace at home.
Elliot still doesn’t have a proper studio. He paints on this easel in a corner of the master bedroom of his home, which has a balcony overlooking his tree-lined backyard.
“It was the only place for me,” he said.
What he has is a seemingly endless source of creative energy that he wants to harness before it dries up.
MAKE ART HAPPEN
Elliot – whose real first name is Edward, taken from his middle name Scott – was a respected musician in central and coastal Maine. He has played in several bands and as a session player over the years but is most commonly associated with the Boneheads, who formed in 1991 and are still active.
He started making music as a teenager and settled on bass guitar.
“He’s a great musician,” Pirozzoli said. “He just…I don’t know how to put it…he has the genetic predisposition to do something like that. But he also worked on it.”
Elliot said he was as obsessed with music as he was with painting.
“When I was learning to play the guitar, the only thing I thought about was when I was learning a new chord or something,” he said.
Although Elliot did not take art classes or spend time painting, he was not without an artistic sensibility. He has made drawings that have become cover art for his bands’ albums. He has built beautiful custom cabinets, including in his own home.
However, he had not expected to find such an outlet in painting.
“It feels great to have that creative energy and it carries over into other things,” he said.
Elliot has always been a fan of the visual arts. He loves Van Gogh. Andrew Wyeth too. Aside from his own work, the only other print on the wall is a Wyeth.
He doesn’t know how to characterize his paintings or where the ideas come from, but the bold use of color suggests abstract-expressionist influences.
“I’m not trying to imitate or anything,” he said. “I just put some paint on and start pushing it around and then it usually just kind of comes out. Then you take a step back and it’s a person or a face, or I see something else and then I do the rest of it.”
Gimbel said one of his first suggestions to Elliot was to treat painting like music. Experiment. improvise.
“It’s more of a process of allowing something to happen than trying to make it happen,” Gimbel said.
One of his paintings depicts three women in a semicircle, their heads bowed, their hands clasped. The background is moonlit sky. Another shows a woman with blue hair holding a large rooster in front of an orange background with a silo.
Most of his work is acrylic on canvas, painted alla prima (Italian for “all at once”). This means paint is applied to other layers before they have a chance to dry.
Soon Elliot had so many paintings that he couldn’t hang them all. He sold a few to friends after they kept asking but didn’t really know what to do with the rest.
SHOW AND SELL
Sometime last year, Elliot and his wife Jo were visiting a friend who cooks at Slates Restaurant in Hallowell. Another friend was there too, Wendy Larson, the owner of the restaurant.
“We were talking about what’s new and Jo was like, ‘He was drawing like crazy, like a madman,'” Elliot recalled. “They all said, ‘You must have a show at Slates,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ I only did it because it was fun. I was just excited to have that thing back in my life where I’m just crazy and can’t think of anything else.”
Larson told him to let her know whenever he was ready. It was a few more months before he felt comfortable showing his work to a wider audience, but the response was overwhelming.
Of the 40 pieces he exhibited at Slates, half were sold.
“One of the reasons I did a show was because Jo said, ‘You’ve got to get some of that out there,'” he said.
But he just keeps painting.
Elliot said it’s still weird to think of strangers owning his work. When he sold pieces to friends, it was easier.
“I could always visit them and I know they will enjoy it,” he explained.
He also knew nothing about the prices.
“He asked me about the prices, but then he didn’t take my advice,” said Gimbel with a chuckle. “His work is really underrated.”
He had two paintings submitted to the Maine Art Gallery’s year-end show – Fish House Town Meeting and Electric Dooryard, the second of which sold.
He’s looking for other ways to bring his work to a wider audience, but he’d probably keep painting either way.
Gimbel said that’s one of the things that makes Elliot’s art so compelling. He’s not trying to create for an audience. He likes to sell his paintings, but that doesn’t motivate him.
“So much art in Maine is representative…it’s the lowest common denominator,” Gimbel said. “I’ve never been interested in that. I want it to be groundbreaking. I think Scott lives in that space too and the more comfortable he gets the better off he gets.”
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