Travel along the coastal route of the El Camino Real with writer Pedro Arroyo and curator Catherine Trujillo as they explore the rich and diverse cultural and artistic identity of San Luis Obispo County incorporating personal narratives, photography, art, infographics, and sound.
"The Central Coast is the end of the road for me. There is no heaven and no utopia for me. This is it for me."--David Settino Scott, painter and sculptor
In 1985, David Settino Scott was an artist in transition. "It was an act of desperation to get out of L.A, " he recalled. He felt cooped up in a small apartment in Los Angeles while recovering from a motorcycle accident and searching for a bucolic utopia for an artistic rebirth. He recalled his childhood memory of a family vacation to Morro Bay. He and his former wife hopped in the car and headed up the 101 freeway until they reached the unfettered coastline of Morro Bay. Within 24 hours, they rented a house with a garage for a studio where Scott could paint. "My first studio was in the middle of a bean field. There was no traffic, no cell phones and no visitors. I worked seven days a week. It was a whole new world for me," he said, a sharp contrast to life in Los Angeles. What began as a short-term escape to a small coastal community in Morro Bay has become home for the 73 year-old artist.
Before settling on the Central Coast, Scott had explored painting, owned a sandal shop on Fairfax tending to the likes of Donovan and took flying lessons, becoming a flight instructor. One of David's students was Robert "Bob" Sherman who had just began work on a film. "I'm working on a movie called Stars Wars," Scott recalled Sherman saying. "Are you interested in a job as a production assistant?"
Scott accepted. "I began building models of the X-wing fighter," he said. Then came work on "Caddy Shack" and the opportunity to learn the use of plastics, sculpture and welding, all skills central to his most provocative and engaging work.
Scott's studio, designed in collaboration with a local architect, is a high-arched and earth-toned modern space in rural San Miguel, and home to a historic mission, cattle and grapes vines. The studio is filled with airplanes and flying apparatuses reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's Japanese anime, motorcycles and over thirty years worth of paintings, hinged free standing screens and sculptures of Egyptian queens and Buddhist monks.
A striking feature of Scott's work is his fascination with the human form. "I love the human figure. When I paint, I try to capture the frailty of being human," he said. An example is the Cut Series, a set of eight oil portraits, which began with no clear direction or goal. He considered a set of nude portraits, but as he began talking with the model, she began to reveal the trauma and pain in her life. "I wanted to show her damage but I did not know how to portray this initially," he added. In each of the portraits, Scott painted a small cut in an area of the model's body, yet the cuts are not clearly evident to the eye. "People don't see the cut until they get close to the paintings," he said.
While working on Egyptian busts, Scott began thinking about monks recalling a picture of Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who had set him on fire in the streets of Saigon in 1963 to protest the prosecution of monks by the Diem regime. The result was "A Pure Working," a collection of stylized busts of Buddhist monks. "I wanted to find out why Buddhist monks set themselves on fire," he said. He discovered several Americans, Alice Herz and Norman Morrison had also committed self-immolation to protest the Vietnam war and the findings moved him to create the work. The result was a plaster and wire bust of Herz, with an encaustic finish. Scott set Herz's bust on fire momentarily burning part of her head.
The most emotionally moving piece is a life size sculpture of Thich Quang Duc, sitting in a state of altered consciousness in flames. "We can ask ourselves, what kind of love and compassion causes someone to sacrifice themselves by burning," Scott ruminates, "only to call attention to those suffering and drying. It is a sublime concept. It is pure sacrifice."
Armed with dry wit and a paintbrush, artist Mark Bryan is best known for his satirical paintings with political themes. A Southern California native, Bryan was raised in the conformity of the Fifties -- fully immersed in America's pop culture aesthetic -- but came of age in the 1960s counterculture. He moved to San Luis Obispo in '68 to study architecture at Cal Poly, intending to make it as an architect. Painting and drawing were a childhood passion, but his parents steered him toward what they described as a legitimate career in architecture. The backing of Art Department professors propelled him to make the change. "Erna Knapp who was the head of the Art Department and art professor David Bodlak were the ones who pushed me toward art. Heeding this advice Bryan would go on to receive his BFA in 1972 and his MFA in 1974 from Otis.
While attending Otis Art Institute (now Otis College of Art and Design) he became friends with the Los Angeles based Chicano art collective "Los Four" comprised of Carlos Almaraz, Roberto de la Rocha, Frank Romero, and founder Gilbert "Magu" Luján. Bryan met Almaraz as they were both entering their MFA program at Otis, and shared a studio. This early collaboration influenced Bryan's style of pop surrealist art with themes in war, terrorism, and political/social commentary.
"Carlos was a communist by nature," Bryan says, "he wanted to be the artist for the UFW (United Farm Workers Union). They didn't even know they needed an official artist but he convinced them. I don't know if this is true so Google it, but the actor Steve McQueen bought an old abandoned sanitarium in Tehachapi and sold it to the UFW. The UFW hadn't been there long when they held a convention inviting Ted Kennedy to speak. Carlos convinced the UFW they needed a mural to go behind Kennedy and they agreed, so I went to Tehachapi with Carlos to help him paint a 40x60 ft. mural in under a week. The mural depicted a confrontation between growers and laborers much in the Soviet and Chinese propaganda style of the 30s. During one quiet moment of painting, Cesar Chavez came in and watched us paint. It was during his fasting. He was very casual and down to earth."
Bryan's most well-known and circulated work is the 2006 oil on canvas "Dick," ridiculing former Vice-President Dick Cheney who in the painting is placing a "large knife into the hands of a child-like George W. Bush. His paintings have a political bent and are often in the style of political cartoons, which incorporate iconic childhood images and pop culture references. "My stuffed bunny from childhood shows up in my work and monkeys are just inherently funny," Bryan says. "They are so similar to humans. There also seems to be a weird collective consciousness in art of trendy creatures like skeletons, octopuses, birds," he added. "Much of my weird stuff is set in landscapes reminiscent of San Luis Obispo hillsides and beaches. Landscape juxtaposed with crazy shit makes for a perfect environment for my paintings."
By the age of 35, artist Tracy Taylor, was one of the most successful poster artists in the United States. Her playful and vibrant watercolor posters of tropical fish and vivid flowers were reproduced by the thousands in the mid-to-late 1990s, making her a household name. This success had an impact on Taylor. "I was a full-blown ego-maniac who did not work well with others," she laughed, while in her San Luis Obispo studio. A Southern California transplant, Taylor was showing at the Madonna Inn and ventured to the historic town of Edna Valley, located just south of San Luis Obispo and spotted the old Edna store and immediately rented a part of the building for her studio. " I would come here and paint for two weeks straight and return to Southern California," she said. Several years later, she made the transition to San Luis Obispo. For two decades, SLO has been home.
Although fish and flowers are important themes of the work, she is no longer interested in painting for publishers. Taylor was fast at work on an oil painting titled, "I got to hand it you," inspired by Hindu a deity, carrying various modern objects in her six hands while riding a tiger. She was also painting a larger oil portrait of a nude. " I have the attention span of flea, so I like to work on multiple pieces at the same time," she added unable to hold back a smile.
Lately she has been fascinated with painting Buddhas and typewriters. A set of her Buddhas can be found at a home at the Mee-Heng Low, a Chinese restaurant in San Luis Obispo's historic Chinatown. The set of Buddhas silently meditate as customers chew on crispy noodles. "I like to think that the Buddha did others things than just pontificate," said Taylor. "I would like to imagine the Buddha eating doughnuts with colored sprinkles."
Top Image: Artwork by David Settino Scott. Photo: Enrique Perez