Colorado native Scottie Burgess has the versatility of a polymath, with interests in music engineering and creative design, but he has settled into a bold sculpture-installation practice utilizing mixed new and recycled materials. A member of the Pirate cooperative, Burgess builds ties within the local and national artist communities while venturing professionally into the realm of public art. Burgess’s most recent unveilings include a sculpture in a secret backyard exhibition and a public installation now on view at Republic Plaza in downtown Denver.
Learn what drives Burgess as an artist and as a person as he tackles the Colorado Creatives questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Scottie Burgess: My creative muse and I have a love/hate relationship. It’s difficult to name, but is an unrelenting ass-kicker that thrives under pressure, is most of the time frustrating, speaks softly through intuition and is always fulfilling. There is a term Korean shamans use that closely describes this process called "han-puri" — "han" described as a kind of knot on the soul, and "han-puri" as the unwinding, venting or release of this knot. It seems everyone has this in some form, and it typically manifests either constructively or self-destructively; the latter I spent many years perfecting. For me, this continued challenge of creatively resolving this tension is what tends to fuel my work.
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Since we're having a soirée for a healthy dose of excess and to show us how it's done, the first person on the list would be the original club kid, Leigh Bowery. His contributions to the social practice and performative art aspect of nightlife and club culture are so fascinating!
For conversation and to elevate the spiritual, the second on the list would have to be Hilma af Klint. She was doing abstract expressionism before it was a thing, as her paintings didn't become known until twenty years after her death, per her request. She is known for painting the unseen and esoteric, and I often look to her art-making process in admiration. She is one of only a few visual artists whose works have made me shed tears.
Of course, we would need music driving this mothership, which would be a tag team between Björk and Erykah Badu. These beings are seemingly from another planet, always experimenting with new technologies and possessing the otherworldly. This party is going to be amazing, and everyone's invited!
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
The amount of cooperation and support generally shared in abundance in Denver’s creative community is the best thing! As an interdisciplinary artist who enjoys experimenting with new materials and processes, I enjoy that reaching out to other creatives with questions is common. Although I often work in a solitary way, it can’t be done completely alone, and so many artists in Denver are more than willing to share their experiences. I have a lot of respect for co-ops like Pirate: Contemporary Art that allow for the advancing of ideas. Similarly, at the forefront of the incredible events that have taken place in 2020, Denver’s creative communities mobilized beautifully, building a network of support while activating with awe-inspiring innovation.
It’s not Denver-specific, but the worst has more to do with what the community faces and how we compromise — the conundrum being between making a living as an artist and compromising our work with a monetary value. I’m all for selling work — we deserve fair pay, after all — but it’s depressing seeing a price tag right next to a work of art. Our capitalistic system supersedes the value of everything, but why make it so apparent? Must every creative endeavor be reduced to monetary value? These are questions I’m continually returning to. It’s tough to reconcile, and one of the reasons I have an affinity for installation and upcycled materials.
What drew you to making art in the first place?
For as long as I can remember, there has been this pull toward the arts. When I was around five years old, I rendered a quiet chalk drawing of flowers that ended up in the Young People’s Art Exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center. A few years later, I received a scholarship to study art at the Bemis School of Art, where I recall these funny memories about making super-funky objects that, in retrospect, I was deeply self-conscious about. As I grew older, I veered into studying other creative disciplines, including music technology and philosophy. Eventually, I heard a calling back to the visual arts, as the path to creativity tends to be most fluid for me. I have no idea where it comes from, but I’m grateful for having a passion that challenges me daily while helping translate a sense of meaning.
What's your dream project?
For me, a dream project would look something like working with NASA to conceptualize an installation that would exist on the moon. Fastened to the lunar surface would be a field of mirrors: Picture an imaginary cosmic mirror ball hung in the night sky! In essence, a reflection of the earth and its stewards and inhabitants, it would be reflected down, in hope of a global realization of the preciousness of the world. A little perspective of the planet we are dependent on couldn't hurt.
Denver (or Colorado), love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Love it and leave it occasionally! I was born in Colorado, moved to the Midwest for a little bit, studied abroad and have traveled some, but Denver is home, though getting away now and again is a must. Living alongside the Rocky Mountains and being the most populated metropolis at the heart of the U.S., we have a unique balance between nature and the cosmopolitan. But because of Denver’s growing popularity, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to work here as an artist. Any creative who has lived here for any amount of time can tell you the challenges of affording a studio or gallery space. Real estate prices and taxes have become outrageous, and unfortunately, the municipalities haven’t done much to assist in offsetting these costs. Moreover, I’m afraid to see the economic consequences the pandemic will have on the infrastructures of our creative communities. In any case, we’re hanging tight!
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
There are several creatives in Colorado whom I follow closely, but there are a few who have influenced my practice deeply. With an admirable social practice, Tiffany Matheson has an ultra-analytical scientific yet playful approach to art-making that is something to behold. Michael Brohman has an honesty and work ethic that I sincerely respect and value. His work is challenging, evocative and always meticulously executed. Lastly, Rian Kerrane — probably one of the hardest-working artists in Denver — is an inspiring educator, while her work is invariably thoughtful, poetic and rich in material considerations.
What's on your agenda now and in the coming year?
I’m excited to have recently finished “Passing Through,” a site-specific installation currently on view at Republic Plaza. Informed by the pandemic, “Passing Through” is a dynamic assemblage that references time, the building and the fluid perspective of the lives that traverse its spaces. I also currently have work included in a socially responsible outdoor exhibition that is a little bit of a secret. If interested, a little sleuthing of my close associates may lead to a ticket. A hint: It’s located in a garden.
As for the future, and the pandemic notwithstanding, I have some cast-iron work going to New Mexico for Iron in the West. Similarly, an iron pour is probably not too far off the schedule. I’m also thrilled to be part of an upcoming exhibition focusing on all things wood taking place at the Arvada Center for the Arts. Many thanks go to the director, curator and artist Collin Parson, who’s always lifting other creatives.
On a personal note, with every work completed come insights and new creative avenues to explore, a stepping stone to the next. There are formal elements I will continue to tease out and conceptual limitations I will continue to challenge.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
A couple of artists come to mind, both hardworking and great creatives in their own right. I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with Robin Hextrum, who is a wonderful contemporary oil painter and educator. With a wealth of art-historical knowledge, she’s been creating these vibrant still-life landscape abstractions with often serious conceptual backbones. Ariella J. Asher is another fantastic local creative to keep an eye on. Being multi-disciplinary and having a rich cultural perspective, she’s been creating large-scale photomosaics and halftone paintings that shimmer and refract important sociopolitical, cultural and spiritual questions.