Painter Gilmore Scott
Perhaps most people are unaware that the geometric patterns and abstract designs in Navajo weavings have their antecedents in the mountainous terrain, canyon lands, animals, and other elements found in the Southwestern landscape. In a sense, some designs can be read, maybe because they represent a narrative element of Navajo mythology, or maybe because they convey the power and might of a thunderstorm or other natural aspect of the land.
The landscape paintings of Diné artist Gilmore Scott are abstracted visions of the Southwest that are inspired, in part, by Navajo textile designs. Scott’s work seems to make the connections between the abstract and the figurative in Navajo weaving more explicit. “My mom was a weaver,” Scott said. “As a youngster I would sit there and watch her weave. The graphics stood out for me. I would always try to put some element of weaving into my work. Listening to some of the stories she would tell — she wouldn’t get to intricate because I wasn’t a weaver — but she would tell me what certain parts of the loom were for the Navajo people. There’s a big array of stories involved with the Navajo weaving loom. It always stayed with me.”
Scott makes bold use of color and background patterns that often echo some shape taken from the foreground. Vertical and diagonal striations representing rainfall and cloud formations composed of concentric rings are common features. His compositions pop and vibrate like the classic eye-dazzling Navajo rug designs of the late 19th century, while the landscapes capture the immensity of the Southern Utah country where he lives. It’s a terrain he knows well, having spent many years working on crews fighting wildfires before turning to art full time. “When I was going to school they offered a summertime position working for the U.S. Forest Service, and that’s how I got into firefighting,” he said. “I put in almost 10 years working with them, working from school, and in the summertime doing the wildland firefighting.”
Scott had to balance the demands of a dangerous job that often took him away from home for long periods, and his artistic practice flagged during his time in the Forest Service. He did manage to secure a supervisory position that was closer to home, leading an “initial attack squad” whose job was to fight single tree fires before they erupted into fullscale conflagrations. “People aren’t aware that a lot of the firefighting is done at that level,” he said. “During the fire season we’d get five or six fires within a week. Our forests out here are pretty rugged, so there’s a lot of one-nighters, going out, finding the fire, hiking out to it, camping out, and hiking back to our vehicles. During the fire season, you’re not home at all and you only have a couple of days off.” Even in the offseason, firefighters keep busy, managing prescribed burns in the Southern states such as Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama. “I think I just burned myself out is what it comes down to,” he said. “My wife said, ‘Why don’t you get back into art?’ and she got a full-time job at the local high school as a counselor.”
Scott started out slowly, feeling his way through the art market, but he has found an audience for his distinctive work. “A working artist tries to find a niche where they can sell some work, do work they like and enjoy doing, but also be able to push it,” he said. “Even to this day, weavers will come up to me and give me a thumbs up, and I’m always happy. I’m hoping some day to collaborate with a weaver on some of my work.” — Michael Abatemarco
MY MOM WAS A WEAVER. AS A YOUNGSTER I WOULD SIT THERE AND WATCH HER WEAVE. THE GRAPHICS STOOD OUT FOR ME. I WOULD ALWAYS TRY TO PUT SOME ELEMENT OF WEAVING INTO MY WORK.
Within Her Storms (detail), 2017, acrylic on canvas