Fans can see another side of Scott Avett at Aspen’s Hexton Gallery
Member of Avett Brothers opens art exhibition in downtown space Tuesday after intimate public event atop Aspen Mountain
Two days after headlining Red Rocks Ampitheatre with the Avett Brothers and amid the fury of the band’s post-vaccine return to playing rock concerts for crowds of thousands, Scott Avett took the Silver Queen Gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain for a decidedly more intimate public event Tuesday morning.
The singer and guitarist came here to talk about his work as a painter and artist, which he’s mostly kept private over the past 20 years. On Tuesday evening, Avett unveiled his solo exhibition “Power Outage” at Hexton Gallery in downtown Aspen. Longtime local gallerist Bob Chase, who met Avett through painter Eric Fischl, has been working with him in recent years and doing studio visits at his farmhouse studio in rural North Carolina.
To launch the Aspen show, Chase and Hexton Gallery organized the free mid-morning talk atop Aspen Mountain, which drew a crowd of about 150 and included Avett performing songs solo as well as discussing his artwork with a slideshow.
The pandemic, he said, has altered his work as a painter and as a songwriter.
“At Red Rocks, a lot of things felt like no time went by at all,” he said of the band’s sold-out Sunday concert, “but I’m looking at it totally differently.”
Likewise with his painting practice, which evolved from largely figurative works depicting his wife and children into more abstract pieces about family life and the wildlands surrounding their rural North Carolina home.
Avett explained that he has kept an art practice going, with little interruption, since he graduated from art school at East Carolina University in 2000 and has stayed disciplined in making work even as he’s become a full-fledged rock star. Rarely showing or selling the paintings, Avett had a little-known off-stage life as an artist in the converted farmhouse where he keeps separate studios for painting, printmaking and recording.
A major turning point, he explained, was a pop-up exhibition in 2012. He sold out the show but resolved not to do it again and instead to focus on developing as an artist in the studio without sales or a public in mind.
“It was a huge success, but otherwise I had compromised,” he said. “I promised myself I wouldn’t show again — I had to think of (the studio) as an incubator.”
By late 2019, Avett believed he had something to share.
The Aspen exhibition marks Avett’s second major show, following 2019’s “Invisible” at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. It functioned as a mid-career retrospective, tracking Avett’s private progress as a painter, and drew some 100,000 people during its run — crowds of Avett Brothers fans coming to see this little-known side of Avett’s creative life, much as the smaller Aspen crowd did Tuesday morning.
He still felt conflicted about sharing the work, though, during the museum show.
“It’s a little bit vulnerable,” he said, “because you get close to these things. I spend a lot of time with them and there’s a lot of effort I put into it.”
He has since begun to think of it much as he considers the life and death cycle of a song, how once a song he has written is recorded its life is complete. Likewise, his long journey with a painting ends when he shows them.
Songwriting and painting are intertwined for Avett and are informing one another in new ways after more than a year at home during the pandemic.
“Concerts are very active, singing is active, playing an instrument is active,” he said, adding that keeping a regular painting practice has helped him develop a more passive or instinctual approach as a musician.
“I’m trying not to pine over ‘What does it mean?’ ‘What does it say?’ ‘Will this be my masterpiece?’” he said. “Instead, can I get into the space for this to be a meditative practice?”
The work on view at Hexton includes depictions of Avett’s children over the years, ranging from more straight-forward figurative depictions of years past to newer and more experimental works that play with collage concepts and abstraction.
Avett said he thinks of the pieces as self-portraits, though he’s rarely actually in them. Early on, most of what he painted was literal self-portraiture.
“I’d have like three or four mirrors truing to get the right poses late at night in Parsons, North Carolina, with a bottle of wine at like 3 a.m. and just paint,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s no way to live.”
His wife was his first model. He prefers painting his family, he explained, because he wants his art filled with people and things he loves.
“I need to love every model that I use,” he said. “I want to put the things I love in paintings, so I paint the kids.”
Who: Scott Avett
What: ‘Power Outage’ art exhibition
Where: Hexton Gallery, 447 E. Cooper, Aspen
More info: hextongallery.com
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