Life can be unpredictable, but sometimes there are certain feelings that urge you to choose a different path, take a risk and hopefully reap the reward. Artist O’Neil Scott was going to pursue an art major in college but ended up pursuing a degree information systems and later an MBA. However, he never abandoned his artwork entirely, eventually making a full return to his true dream of becoming an artist.
Please tell me about your art journey. When did you first start to paint?
Even though art has always been a big part of my life and I have been drawing portraits for as long as I can remember I really only started painting 3 years ago. I was always attracted to art and even won a few awards in middle and high school. For college, I went to Syracuse University on an athletic scholarship and was accepted to the Visual Arts program. At Syracuse, I took all of my foundation art classes my freshman year, but as I was registering for my sophomore year I realized my studio classes dramatically cut into practice time. As a result, I had to forgo being an art major to maintain my rigorous student-athlete schedule. I graduated with an Information Systems degree and even went on to earn an MBA. Even though I never stopped drawing I always felt like something was missing from my life. When I finally got back into painting I told myself I was going to create a body of work and start pitching it to galleries until I got into a gallery I liked. To my surprise, my second painting in I started receiving inquiries from galleries. I decided to ship that painting to Jo Hay Gallery for a group show as an invited artist. As soon as the show opened the painting sold. That prompted the conversation with the gallery director and me to discuss other group shows as well as a solo show. Ever since then I have been painting nonstop, and don’t plan on looking back.
Your paintings are incredibly realistic. How long did it take for you to master this craft?
Thank you. I feel far from a master. I am constantly changing my process and technique with every painting. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t but it is getting more refined with each painting. I know I have only been painting three years but as a result of drawing for so long and having a solid sense of proportion, I was able to pick up oil painting a lot quicker than if I never invested in my skill of observation. Most of drawing and painting realistically is about training the eye. I find myself looking at paintings from other artists that I thought were impossible to do in the past and now feel like they are just ok and could even be done better. I still love the paintings but they just don’t seem as realistic to me as they once did. I am sure I will look back on my paintings in a few years and think they could be so much better. It is all part of the process and I am trying to enjoy it.
As an artist did you have any struggles, and if you did how did you overcome it?
I struggle all the time. In terms of my art career, I struggle with balancing time between painting and spending time with family. Some of the paintings take over 150 hours so I’m always in a time crunch. In terms of painting, I think I struggled with style. I am attracted to loose paintings. I am forever envious of painters like Sargent who can do so much with a loose brushstroke. I am the total opposite.
Over time I am learning to trust who I am as a painter and go with how I feel comfortable painting. I think my paintings are not only feeling more true to me but also it’s been less of a struggle to create.
What is your favorite part about the art that you create? What does your artwork aim to say?
My favorite part about art is that it drives awareness in a form of beauty. One of my favorite quotes is by Bo Bartlett, he says, “Art is meant to wake us up.” I am currently captivated by society’s influence on the human state. Venturing beyond politics I am struck at the way people take on the weight of their racial, social and economic classes.
This weight shows up in their overall presence in the world. Along with bringing awareness to a variety of causes I believe in, I also want my work to reflect a sense of truth.
What has been the happiest moment in your career so far? The saddest moment?
I have had a few happy moments centered around awards and exhibitions, however; one moment that always stuck with me was at a group exhibition in NYC. It was my first time exhibiting and my painting made such an impact that I had someone crying and hugging me. To have a painting you create trigger such a deep expression of emotion was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was the moment I knew I was on the right track and I could never stop being an artist. My work had something to say.
As far as sad moments go I think I take everything in stride. I don’t dwell on the negative times and I try not to let them impact me. I get disappointed when I am rejected from shows or receive a negative comment but those things never stick with me. I truly can’t remember most of them.
I think as an artist you need to have thick skin. You are putting your creation out into the world and people are going to have an opinion and if the work is good it should spark an emotion whether it’s negative or positive.
What are you most afraid of right now?
I grew up pretty poor, in a tough neighborhood; as a result, I’m not afraid of much. I hope we as human beings don’t move so far from compassion for each other that we can’t relate to difficulties others face across the globe. Right now we have immigrant children in detention centers separated from their parents and we continue to move away from reverence and love for others. If I’m afraid of anything it’s that we are going to continue to have an increase in suffering that is unnecessary.
If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?
Never stop believing in yourself. Failures are lessons and we have to be aware that they are a teaching moment. We just have to make adjustments and try again. Life is boring without the challenges or the goals that seem hard to reach but give us purpose. Know that there are going to be bumps along the way but if you want something bad enough nothing can stop you.