Artists are used to the question, “What is your medium?” But it’s not everyday that the answer is “Tru-Colour bandages.” Since at the moment this would be one of artist Scott Glaser’s answers, we at Tru-Colour wanted to speak to him to find out how he stumbled upon this unique medium and what currently inspires his work.
Question: Can you tell me the story about how you developed your interest in having a career as an artist?
Answer: Yeah I was in advertising for 30 years, and in that period I dabbled in fine art on the side. I was a creative director, so in all those years, I was hiring artists. I think from an ego standpoint, I figured if I’m not as good as these guys that I’m hiring I probably shouldn’t be doing that. In about 2000, I decided you know what the heck, I’ll try some art and I’ll trash it if it’s horrible, and if it’s not so bad, I’ll keep going. I basically switched from comercial art to fine art back around 2000. I started getting commissions and it was like, “Ok, I guess I am good enough to get paid for these things.” I switched over totally to fine art and started getting commissions from corporations, architects and private collectors. What was nice about it is I had a lot of flexibility in terms of style and medium, so I could kinda work towards whatever the client was looking for and then also establish my own visual voice on the side. I actually started out doing photorealist painting. Wow, they take a really really long time. When we were moving back from California, we stopped at some gas station in the middle of Texas and a cowboy was in there and I asked if I could take his picture. I wound up two years later doing a photorealist painting of him and that’s what got me started doing that. That took about 350 hours to do. It was only 2’x2’. I did that for a while using all my own photography as my reference.
Question: I read that you use the grid system for your art. What is the significance of that for you?
Answer: I create all my art using the grid system, which goes back to the 1600’s. Basically, you grid out your reference material, and you make a matching grid on your work surface. In terms of paintings, for example, when I did the cowboy, he was broken down into about 1200 half-inch squares on the photograph. Then I would literally try to recreate each half-inch square one at a time. It’s a good way to train your eye because you’re not thinking “eyes” and “nose” and “mouth,” you’re just thinking “these little abstract forms” and you try to match them up. You get away from the fear of trying to make something that represents the person that you’re using as a subject. It’s great because you can really apply it to any medium as long as your reference piece is gridded. From the photorealist style I went into some impressionist style for some clients. But again, even if I was doing an abstract piece, I would create my reference piece in the computer and print out my grid piece. The discipline was to recreate what I was looking at as closely as I could. I like the challenge of that versus just throwing paint on a canvas to see what happens.
Question: What sparked your interest in making art out of bandages?
I’m one of those guys that keeps a pad of paper by the bed because I know in the middle of the night I’m going to wake up, something’s going to pop into my head, and I have to write it down so I don’t forget it. My son was getting married two years ago on Labor Day weekend and I wanted to give him some kind of creative gift. Don’t ask me why, don’t ask me how, again, in the middle of the night, I popped up and bandages floated into my head. No idea where that came from. I decided the next day I was going to do a portrait of him in bandages. What is fitting is that he and my other son and myself have probably all been in the emergency room enough times to have plaques on the buildings of the hospitals that we have attended. We have been accident-prone since we left the womb, so what better medium for any of us? I did that portrait and I actually didn’t even know about Tru-Colour. I think what I did is I went online and started researching bandages that come in colors. At the time, I think Tru-Colour was the only company that was doing the skin tone thing. So I thought, “Great, I’ll do these monochromatic pieces.” I actually got some BandAids and got some Curad, and I got some other brands. Honestly, I’m not making this up, the Tru-Colour bandages are the best for this medium. They go on flat, they’re easy to cut, they don’t stretch, they don’t distort. They really work well. Somewhere along the way, Tru-Colour was very kind and started sending me quantities of all the bandages. So I did the portrait of my first son Zac, then underneath it, I stenciled in “In sickness and in health.” It was a wedding gift, so I presented it at the wedding. For his bride, I got the largest first aid kit I could find and I put a sticker on it that said “first aide for Zac.” That was her gift. I think I’m on my 6th bandage piece now. I did my other son, then I did a portrait of me. Then after that I thought, “I gotta get some promo out of this somehow.” Roberta Smith is the head art critic for the New York Times and Jerry Saltz is the art critic for the New York magazine. I found a photo online of the two of them and decided to do their portrait. It came out really well. I sent them a work-in-progress print during the creative process. I didn’t get in either of the magazines, but I showed it in a show and got some good response. In the first couple of shows, I had these pieces and people didn’t realize that they were bandage mosaics. In the third show, I took some of the bandages and put them into a palette next to my pieces so people could see they were bandages. When they saw that, they were like, “Wow, this is incredible.” There’s a world famous museum in Amsterdam called the Rijksmuseum. It’s basically the equivalent of the MET in New York. They were having a contest last year where they wanted artists to create pieces of art based on any piece in their permanent collection. I was lucky enough to find they had one of the self-portraits of van Gogh. And since van Gogh did cut off his ear, what better medium than bandages, hence the title of this piece - EAR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW. So I did a portrait of that. I didn’t get into the final top ten, but it came out really well and I got a good response from that. Then I decided maybe I could get more interest marketing-wise if instead of doing portraits, I did some images that relate more to the masses a little more. The one I’m doing now is the one of most famous portraits of Muhammad Ali when he fought with Sonny Liston. He’s standing over him looking down grimacing and Liston is lying on the mat. I titled that one “Sting Like A Bee. It’s a pretty good size and I really like this medium. I could maybe book hospitals, doctors, people that could relate to this medium and maybe have enough of a creative flare to appreciate this form of art. We’ll see, but I’m having a good time.
Question: What are your other creative practices and processes that you feel move your work forward or in new directions?
Well I think everything has an underlying theme. Since I was in advertising for so long, concept plays a big part in everything I do regardless of what the medium is. For example, before I started doing the bandages when I switched from photorealism, I started doing what I call neo-pointillism. Artists at the beginning of the movement did it with paint. I decided to take that idea and do it with a newer medium, so I started using ultra fine markers, which are basically pen-point size. Art should be archival. And I did find archival markers, so I started doing these neo-pointillism drawings with these markers. Again I would use the grid system. Basically I work in a format that’s fourteen and a half inches wide by twenty-one and a half inches deep as my working surface, and there are 1305 half-inch squares within that space. I did one piece, a section of the lobby of The Pierre Hotel. I calculated one half-inch multi-colored square has over 1500 hand-stippled dots. If you calculate that with 1305 squares, I’ve done over 2 million hand-drawn dots in each of these 14x21 pieces. You can get lost in it, when you sit there and you’re just stippling for four to five hours a day, everything else goes away. You get totally absorbed into what you’re doing. It’s really challenging because as opposed to using paint, if you make a mistake you can go in there and paint it out, but with markers once your dots are down they’re down. Plus, all the blending happens with your eye, so the way you get orange is putting yellow dots next to red dots because if you don’t have orange you have to make it. The color palette, again like bandages, is very limited. You have to think a little more creatively in terms of color. But again, having the concept is the driving force behind whatever the medium is.
Question: I’m interested in this thing about color, because so many of your pieces have such vibrant colors and the bandages are so mono-chromatic. Can you talk more about that? In relation to all of your work, how are you thinking about skin tone bandages specifically?
Yeah it’s funny you say that because going from painting where you can have pretty much any color you want, to the markers where you have a very limited palette, and now the bandages, I’ve continued to further limit my color palette. I have to tell you, I don’t know if they said this, but I actually bugged the guys at Tru-Colour for a very long time to add the fourth color. I said, “This is great, but you’re missing the entire caucasian market.” Because they didn’t have that color bandage, and in order to compete with the other guys, you need to do that. Plus it would help me a lot for my art. Obviously, you know they came around and did a fourth color. That helped, but what’s nice about the challenge of this is you’re so limited with your palette, you have to decide what gets worked on and what you leave blank. So the white paper becomes the highlights areas. What’s nice is what you don’t get from the color, you get from the drama of contrast. They really do look dimensional when you look at these things. Everytime I do a piece, I have someone digitally scanning the piece for reproduction. What’s cool about the bandage portraits is a lot of the space is taken up using the entire bandage and the padded middles create a sense of dimensionality. When prints are pulled, they actually look dimensional. It’s almost like engraving to get that kind of feel to it.
Question: Where have you shown your art and is there somewhere now where people can see the bandage work?
Answer: Go to Contemporary Art Network. That’s run by a woman who’s basically acting as our art dealer, and she has a group of eleven artists who she hand-picked in the tri-state area. Last year she got us accepted into, which is amazing, the Affordable Art Fair in New York City. It’s held at the Metropolitan Pavillion. It’s a world-wide exhibition and they only allow 71 exhibitors. The fact that we’re a fairly new group and we got in was pretty amazing. I’ve done some solo shows in Greenwich and was recently was inducted into the Providence Art Club, which was established in 1880. I want to get to a place where I can go knocking on gallery doors with a substantial portfolio of these bandage pieces.
Question: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work especially as it relates to this time in the world where we’ve seen, for example, a global pandemic, a re-ignition of the movement for Black lives, lots of people waking up to political and social issues?
Answer: Well, I try not to think about Covid as much as possible. But with the whole Black Lives Matter movement, I think that’s a direction I want to pursue conceptually using this medium. I mean even though it’s kind of a quirky medium, I’m hoping the subject matter will be taken seriously enough and I can use the bandages as a symbol of pain, suffering and hopefully in healing. It’s crazy and terrible what’s going on now. We haven’t gone anywhere, we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward.
To learn more about Scott Glaser and his work, visithttps://www.contemporaryartnetwork.com/scott-glaser. To see what he is working on now, visit his Instagram @scottglaserart.