POLKcast Episode 3
MF: Madison Fantozzi
LB: Leah Bartholomay
HS: Holly Scoggins
[Fire crackles throughout]
LB: Did they ever find the Serial killer?
[Suspenseful sound builds]
HS: You know—I don’t believe so…
MF: Welcome back to POLKcast, Polk State Colleges official podcast. Tune in for new episode first and third Fridays of the month. I’m your host Madison Fantozzi.
LB: And I’m your co-host Leah Bartholomay.
MF: Today, Professor of art, Holly Scoggins joins us to talk about her work. Which has been described as a southern-gothic memoir, that leaves the viewer with something beautifully haunted. Scoggins was born and raised in a rural abandon cotton-mill town in western North Carolina. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from East Carolina University. And a Master of Fine Arts in figurative art and Painting and Printing making from the New York Academy of Art. She has studied abroad in Italy and Germany and her work has been exhibited internationally, as well as regionally. Most recently at the Polk Museum of Art. Scoggins currently serves as the Visual Art Program Director for the college. Thanks for joining us today.
HS: It’s great to be here!
MF: Tell us more about your upbringing? What inspired you to become an artist? And how your experiences continue to influence your art today?
HS: So, I had a—a lower—I guess a lower income upbringing in West-North Carolina. Most of my family are all—most of my family is uneducated, never went to college. My mother did go to school for a short period of time. So, I grew up—really not seeing art as an option. Not seeing art as a practical career path. Choosing art was sort of risky, but I knew it was—was something that I was passionate about, and I loved. And—I thought if I’m the first person to get a bachelor’s degree in my family—why not—pick art. Just—take that risk.
MF: Did that kind of inspire you to become a professor, and inspire others to pursue art? Even though it’s not viewed as the most lucrative or might not be the most lucrative path?
HS: I’ll be honest I—stumbled upon teaching. I really had—didn’t have a desire to teach when I was in college. I really had a desire—to be—a Set Designer, a Painter—an Oil-painter, an Artist. I even got into framing for a while. I really enjoyed that. But I fell into teaching, because of an opportunity at a—at a gallery, where I lived at in North Carolina. And—once I did it, I was—I was hooked. But it took years to convince myself that—that was really—I was good at it, and I did inspire those students, and I helped—I helped them in the classroom and out of the classroom. I think with—with my background being—you know—with art not being practical, not really having the typical nuclear-family, and—thinking about—you know building a career in college. It was kind of an odd thing to choose art and to—to continue that path and become a professor.
And—I—I think I ultimately chose art, because it was the most challenging thing that I studied in school. For—for me personally—I—you know—I loved math, I loved business. I went for a business degree and never finished it actually. I went to get a master’s in business, because I was just—I was just obsessed with art, and art was this huge challenge for me. And a challenge at expressing myself, a challenge in craftmanship and making.
So—art, especially painting was the most challenging, and that’s why I chose it. And then once I started teaching it—it just—transformed the quality of my life. So, art making is my passion and my love, but teaching really fulfills—fulfills me.
LB: So, when you were little was that like one of your favorite things to do? Did you always paint? Or was that something that happened—like in school or something?
HS: I get that question a lot, especially from students. They say, “Well, I’m not creative.” Or “I’m not artistic. You’ve must have grown up painting out of the womb. Right?” And—I did I was very creative, and I wanted to make stuff. I had the desire to make things. I would build things, and even crafted a little world under my bed. When I was a little girl, like I would crawl under the bed, and I would have all these miniature little dolls and chairs, and kind of weird creepy things that I—that I like to make and draw.
I’m still a bit creepy, so it’s okay. But now, I did always have the desire to make, but I wasn’t always the best at it. So, when I went to college, I really felt like I was at a disadvantage, when I entered my bachelor’s degree. I was at a disadvantage, I didn’t have—a ton of art—experience in—middle school and high school, I had a—had a artist who mentored me as a child, but really in the school system. Not a lot of support—for making art. I remember my high school art class had: colored pencils, copy-paper, tempera-paint and a pencil and eraser. That was it.
So, I was at a disadvantage—with what I was provided with in the school system. So, I really had every challenge against me about being an artist. But when I got into the college classroom I realized that I had to work harder than everyone else, to be really good at what I want to do with my life. And so, my competitive streak—came in and I just kind of—competed my way—and it’s not always healthy, but I would compare myself to others and work really hard to be better and put more hours in. And really hard work is why I think I’m—creative and artistic.
LB: You were talking about—comparing yourself—like as an artist you were comparing yourself to other—other people and stuff, and that’s sort of how you started. So, like—were you like, “Man—I got nothin’ on Van Gogh.”
LB: Like, who are some of your favorite artist?
HS: Well, I will tell you—I really had a shelter life before I went to art school. So—I was really only exposed to Christian-art—that was hanging on people’s walls. My art teacher did—show me some artwork, and—you know—of course, the big name, Van Gogh and Monet, and I would see those paintings. But at home, I really just surrounded by religious art, and so I think that influenced me a lot.
HS: And so, when I got out of that, of course I revolted and was against it. I was like, “I don’t want anything to do with that kind of work.” But I think it’s transformed me in a way that I can now make work that is religious or spiritual in nature, and speaks to a larger group of people, rather than just to the demographic that—that particular work wants to speak too. It kind of shelters itself and only speaks to people who think like—like—that artist. Right?
HS: So, I’ve kind of transformed that. Now that I look back—you know—13 years later, that’s—is what I’m thinking—yeah, that’s—that’s what happen. But 2010 I got a—artist award to study in Germany. Not really study, but to—to be an artist in residence there, and just have the freedom to paint and to work. So, when I’m traveling there—I took a bunch of—magazines and readings with me on the plane. And one of them was about a story I was excited to read about. It was a story—and I can’t remember—I think it was in the New Yorker or—I think that was the magazine, but it was about—the Long-Island serial killer.
So, the Long Island—I was living in New York city at the time. And so, the Long-Island serial killer—was not far away. Right? So, I’m hearing about these women, who are—are being murdered and dismembered—in large numbers. And most of them are prostitutes—or women—who—who—who are in that profession. So, I’m reading about this on my way to Germany and thinking about what I want to paint.
And because I’ve—been a victim of—of violence, and—it was—it hit home to me a little bit, seeing these women’s faces and seeing what’s happening to them and knowing it’s right around the corner from where I am living. The city is bustling, it’s busy, we are not really paying attention to what’s going on. It’s not really a huge concern to a lot of people, even though it was on—on this—magazine, it just didn’t feel like there was this outcry for—you know—to know who these women were and—what they—what they stood for. So, I read that—article five or six times, and—and did some research.
And I decided to do—a series on—those—at least start with those women. Women who—were murdered. Whose lives were taken, and those women may have been in an unfortunate situation. Maybe they were—were in a life of prostitution or women who sold themselves through Craigslist. They were—a lot of them at a disadvantage economically, socially, just in a bad position, and so I wanted to highlight the—the identity of these women and focus on them rather than the killer. And so, I decide to make a series of paintings that started with these women, and I focus on their portraits and intimate portraits of them. A lot of the portraits that were available of them online, were very blurry.
They were old family photos that were cropped, and—and hard to see. And so, what I did was—because of my knowledge of anatomy and—I have studied painting portraits a lot. I decided to repaint them as detailed as I possibly could. And so, I decided to make them, these sort of intimate detailed portraits of women, who are forgotten or seen as not important, or not as valuable to our society, and I wanted to show—to me that—that their made in the image of God, like anyone else. And I wanted to paint them in a—sort of a—a intimate way, where you be forced to get close to these women. So, the Long Island serial killer murdered about 16 people—in that—period of time. And so, I—I started by painting some of those women, and it led to a full series of painting of women—who had been murdered.
LB: Now—were a lot of them unidentified? Or were most of the people identified and you—
HS: Most of them were identified. I did—I have painted a few women that were unidentified—I read about them and—they had pictures that they thought that—were that—was that women, and—So, even screenshots—I had some screenshots that—or not even screenshots—the—selfies that girls had taken on their own computers. Either they were talking to someone online, before they met that person and they were killed. So, I’ve—I’ve—my resource—resources were many for finding these photographs. So, most of the time it was painting them more realistically, more—detailed then they even were in the photographs, make them feel more real, more there.
MF: That leads us into the next group of questions. You also have a series that features women who are still living, correct?
HS: Yes, I do.
MF: And so, can you talk a little bit about that series and kind of what the different treatments and patterns that went into those paintings? What does it all mean?
HS: So, with the—When a rose speaks to the Grave series, which is the murdered—women portrait series. I would paint them realistically, and then I would separate the viewer from them by painting a realistic piece of lace over top of their face. So, that you were separated from them. There was something delicate protecting their face. You can only get so close to the portrait, before—the lace really kept you from learning more about—about the woman.
HS: About looking at her. So, that series had that sort of veil in it—that separates the viewer from the portrait, but in—the newer series of portraits of women. I simply decided to—talk a little bit about mental illness, with that series. And the series was inspired by the Yellow Wallpaper, and if you read that it’s just—a Victorian-gothic story about women’s health. It’s a feminist piece of literature about women’s health, and the healthcare system—during the time. And in the story the women loses—she’s not well, and her husband who is a doctor, tells her to lie down in her room.
And so, she keeps being told to lie down and to rest, but this room is filled with yellow wallpaper. These patterns are crawling over the wallpaper. And so, the longer she lays there, the longer the wallpaper starts to speak to her. And the longer that she starts to be absorbed by the imagery, and the patterns start to crawl and start to move. And it—she supposedly losing her mind in this room by being told to stay here and to rest. They’ve also proven too that—that if this were the case, that the yellow pigment in the wallpaper would also have been toxic for her, and she would have—that would have made her ill as well. Just being surrounded by the color, because of where that color comes from in nature. It has some sulfur—formula in it and so, it can cause problems, but—so, this series came out of reading that , the Yellow Wallpaper, the patterns crawling all over the walls, and she’s starting to lose her mind a little bit—and there is a lot more to that story, but my series, kind of comes from fear of mental illness, because it runs in my family.
And my father suffered from mental illness, and—had a—a great-aunt that was schizophrenic. So, I—I kind of had that in the back of my head, I was always fearful of that, and I like to paint what I am afraid of. And of course, any ones afraid of—of being murder, right? People here are being afraid of—of being mentally ill. So, I—I painted that series. Painted other women as almost self-portraits, young women, my age—just like yourselves, I would—I would photograph you, set you up, put patterns, project patterns on your face or your body, and photograph that and then manipulate the photos in photoshop and paint from those photos. So, that’s—so, the series was just women, friends, acquaintances that I’ve met since moving to Polk county, and I made a newer series. A series that I felt spoke to people more now, as appose to—and brought people more in, more than separated them—like in the murdered series.
LB: That’s a cool juxtaposition though. Like, first your gonna—keep like a wall there. And now you’re trying to pull people in.
HS: Yeah, and the criticism that I’ve gotten from those paintings—is that they do sort of suffa—the paintings fill a bit suffocated, like the viewer can’t really insert themselves into it and engage, it feels very disconnected. And I—some of that’s intentional, because I—my work—I do believe my work has southern-gothic feel, and I do like that kind of—dead-pan look, kind of separating the—the subject from the viewer. So, I’m okay with that criticism.
LB: Is there—color in the series? Like, do—does color play a part in like who the person is?
HS: Yeah, I think most of it is aesthetics. Honestly, it’s formal—a formal decision. I look at the person, I look at the colors, I look at which—I—I experiment with which patterns or designs will look best projected on that particular person’s skin tone, and which images—seem to be crawling over the skin the most.
HS: Like, the Yellow Wallpaper.
HS: So, I’m choosing it based on a—few different things, and the colors do have a lot to do with the skin tone, and—and hair color of the person that I’m painting.
LB: Cool! Can I go back to the—
HS: When a Rose Speaks to the Grave? Yes!
LB: When a Rose Speaks to the Grave! It’s my favorite!
HS: That comes from an epitaph by the way, if you’re wondering why I call it that.
LB: Oh! Very cool!
HS: So, I—throughout my life I’ve frequented graveyards. Which seems a little odd, but—since I was a child I had a graveyard right beside my house. So, I spent most of my childhood just kind of hanging out there. It was like right next to the park. So, sometimes I would take naps there under the tree or I would hang out and say hi to everybody in the graveyard—
LB: Okay creepy lady.
HS: Yeah, it was creep. Yeah.
LB: Cool! [Laughs]
HS: But I did—so, anyway I’ve always kind of had this fascination with memorializing—you know—people who have past away. And especially writing and southern writhing that goes along with that. So, I’ve recorded a lot of—epitaphs—for— epitaph being the writing that’s on the gravestone, especially in the early 20th century. Some really interesting writing. So, when—When a Rose Speak to the Grave, comes from a longer epitaph of a—a young girl who died.
LB: Very cool.
LB: So, do you paint their portraits and then you go over it with the lace texture?
HS: So, with that series, yes! So I completely paint the portrait which is also—quite—painfully therapeutic for me, because I’m painting them—these portraits so details and I’m trying to paint every single plain of their face, and make them look—realistic, but then once it dries, then I paint the lace over top, and I really paint it in a way that I don’t—I don’t always know where certain pieces of the fabric are going to land.
HS: And it’s—my way of almost—not burring the woman, but sort of going through that process of—of realizing that a—a real life was lost, and just the minor effort that I put into a painting compared to a life is nothing, but it—it sort of representative of that.
LB: That’s interesting. Yeah, I mean I think I would—find it hard to—I really like that description, because I think I would find it hard to like paint this beautiful detailed thing. And then go over it and not know if it’s going to go over like a part that I really—
HS: It would hurt a lot. It would be a painful decision a lot of times.
HS: To do that!
LB: That—but, I mean that’s what also makes the piece, like so awesome at the same time.
HS: Thank you! Yeah, I think all of my paintings is conceptual. Idea comes first, and the painting comes later.
HS: And—and that’s important for me. I have a hard time justifying making something if it’s not expressing a world view or at least communicating or helping a group of people or telling a story. I have a really hard time creating just for creation sake.
HS: Yeah, but I do remember the fact—that I am compelled to make work. That’s in me to do that. So, I do honor that, like I have this—I’m compelled to create. So, I do create, but a lot of times I make it a bit more methodical and—you know—have the idea first and the painting later.
LB: Very cool!
MF: Will you tell us what you are working on now?
HS: Absolutely. So, I’ve made—I’ve been painting women with patterns over them for—gosh—eight years—and a—scheme of an artist life that’s not a long time, but I feel like in our world, where things move so quickly, life moves so fast, and we’re so motivated by imagery, that I felt—I felt the need to make a new series and to—and I had kind of—burn out a little bit on making those, because they are so serious. But then I realized I jumped into an equally serious topic. So, I guess I just can’t help myself.
[MF & HS Laugh]
HS: But—so after the portraits—and I’m still making the portraits, they’re still a thing, but I decided to make a—exhibition of paintings called Fearful symmetry. Which was—inspired by writings of William Blake, specifically the poem Tyger—Tyger he talks about Tyger and who made the Tyger, and why does the Tyger exist, and why he is a dangerous Tyger. And it’s really mostly alluding to—why would God create something so violent, and so beautiful. That’s really what I take from the writing. There are a ton of interpretations, but for me, I take why on Earth does something exist that’s so gorgeous, that’s so beautiful, and so breathtaking, and also could take your life in a matter of seconds. And so—obviously writing influences a lot of what I’m painting, and this was another one of those things and—I—I made this series in a interesting place in my life, cause the museum contacted me about a solo show and I agreed to it, but I didn’t know what date they wanted the show.
And then they said, “Oh, well it’s soon, like—like six—four months from now.” And okay, and let’s do this, and so I am looking at my life, and I have a—a very young son—not even a year old yet. And I am busy taking care of him and working full time. And I thought, “How am I going to do this?” And I realized that it’s important making work, even though yes, I’m a mother, yes that’s number one responsibility, mother and a wife. But—this is why I’m on this planet, and I need to show my son and my family—that—I’m going to pursue these dreams, and I’m going to show my son that when you do pursue your dreams and you do put your heart into something and you make what you are here to make or you’re here to do, you really can change lives and help create culture—and create dialogue and learn—and—you know—I wanted him to pursue his passions as much as I do. So, that—that was a weird spot to be in—to say—I could have said, “No.”
LB: Yeah, no.
HS: “I don’t want to make new work. I don’t—I need to take care—care of my son. Call me in a year.”
HS: So, instead—I decided that I would do it, and between—September of 2017 and January of 2018, I made nine large-new paintings. And I’ve painted faster than I ever painted—
HS: I allowed myself to be loose and to be quick. I can spend up to 70 hours on a portrait.
HS: One portrait—like 16 by 20 inches. So, I allowed myself—you know—20 hours is enough on this painting.
HS: You know, 12 hours is enough on this painting. Well—some on them still took 70 hours but—
HS: But—you know, lots of late nights, and—my son in his little bouncy chair next to me while I’m painting, and I have the fans going, so every—you know—the air quality is good. It was tough to get it done—
HS: But I got it done, and I—felt very vulnerable putting up work that quickly, that I—that I had to figure out why I’m making it, what it means, what it’s going to look like—very quickly, and get it up on the wall, and have a solo show. But I love a challenge, as I said before, so I did it, and the new series is simply juxtaposing a vintage image, some sort of old photograph of children, or of women—and putting it with something that has this—dangerous tone to it. So, it might be fire with—with young women walking through—a street hand in hand. So, you may see these two images, almost like a double exposure in photography and that’s what I created digitally, and I used open-source photos, and I would manipulate those photos, and use my own photos and make these—these sort of—what I call the innocence layer and the experience layer on the canvas. So, one image is showing innocence, children, something you don’t know and something—and the next layer is experience, showing something dangerous, like fire or like a lightning storm. Something that’s—that’s—has—it creates this perilous undercurrent for the work.
LB: So, is the experience layer often—something to do with light?
HS: Absolutely. So—
LB: Like always? Always light?
HS: Yeah, it usually is light. It will be—light will be there. So, most of the time it’s fire. I have a—a personal story associated with fire, that—has kept me—sort of interested in it my whole life, reading about fire, painting fire. You know, I love—I love fire, I love the way it looks and—actually I’ll tell you the story, cause it’s really—it’s really interesting—scary, but interesting. So, when I was seven-years old, I—was going through—it was late at night, my mom was driving, it was me in the back seat. And we’re driving through this tiny town, there is almost no house around this area. It was dark, it was quiet, and we were driving through the woods.
It’s kind of hill—hilly in this area, so we’re driving up and down and my mom says, “Do you see that?” and I looked out the window and I saw a fire. And I said, “Yeah, wow! What is that?” And she’s like, “Let me slow down.” So, she slowed down, and we realized—I didn’t realize at time, but my mother realize that this is not good. So, there was a fire and there were people dancing around a fire. And—I was—very mesmerized as a child, I was like, “Wow mom, this is so beautiful! Look at these people! They have white robes, and there’s flames—in-between them.” It was so—it was horrifying when I think about it now. Bit it was—it was real life. And so, what I was viewing was actually a Ku Klux Klan meeting—in this town.
And so, my mom pulls me off to the side and she said, “Babe, you’re young, but how did you feel, when you first saw this?” And I said, “Oh, I thought it was beautiful!” She said, “Well, a lot things that are bad for you are beautiful. And a lot of things that you are attracted to, they will be beautiful, but you need to know why this is not beautiful. This is very—actually quite scary and horrific and terrible.” And so, I—of course we sat there for a while, we turned the car off and sit there very quietly. Which is also very scary, once I know what I was watching, and my mom told me all about it. She said, “This is not right. This is not okay.” She was very clear about that and, “But you need to know what you are seeing, and this is the real world that you live in.” And at a young age I learned very quickly that things that are beautiful that I am attracted to—there might be a bad side to it, and so—that memory—and there are a couple of others with fire, but that one—that one really triggered a lot of artworks that I’ve made over the years, that not a lot of people know about. And that sort of source of fire is beautiful, but it will burn you—as simple as that is, God how can you create something so dangerous, that’s so beautiful. Just like the Tyger, right? So, that was really the source for creating the series of paintings is confronting—showing children or showing someone—doing something in innocence and then—showing the experience of—the reality of—of what could happen from that.
LB: That’s very cool!
HS: Yeah, it’s—it’s a tough topic, but it’s—somebodys got to talk about it. It’s a real thing. It’s—the real issue.
LB: Yeah—yeah. Especially in the—you know—
HS: I use to—talk about it—
LB: Woods of North Carolina!
HS: Yeah! Yeah!
LB: They’re everywhere! But—
HS: I mean that they’re isolated—they’re isolated—even today that area where we saw it—it was—it could probably still happen.
HS: And not a lot of people would say anything.
HS: Yep—real sad.
HS: But I choose—I have a world view that I want to express and—I choose my painting to do that, and so I’m hoping through creating artwork that—that’s a way I can help change culture and make people aware of their own prejudices or—you know—even work through my own. Right?
HS: Of any—of other—of any other situation.
LB: Very cool.
MF: Where can people go to see your work?
HS: Currently—you—if you—if you want to see it in person, that’s tough, because I don’t have an exhibition right now. The solo show came down early—in—the spring. And I’m working on new paintings. I am currently working on—a—exhibition here at Polk State College—that is nonviolence in nature. So, it’s the One-billion Rising exhibition that will happen in—February and March of next year. And I’m gathering a few artists and—and the show is going to be of a call for nonviolence. So—talking about nonviolence, violence against women, violence against anyone in general, but really just champion—championing—nonviolence and creating an art show from that. So, I’m hoping to have some of my own paintings in that—probably from the murder series, because it relates so heavily.
HS: And—I making a giant mural for—the Tapestry’s project. Which is—through the Working Artist Studio in Lakeland in the city of Lakeland. And so, I will have a large mural up—on view—by November. Yeah, so you can come to the Tapestry’s opening in November. Which is—60 tapestries, 60 murals will be hung and mine will be one of them and for Polk State alumni and students will be there—
HS: With artwork.
LB: Very cool!
MF: Awesome, and since everything we do here at Polk State is for the students and about the students—where can listeners see some of the artwork students have worked on?
HS: You can see the—student artwork up now in the gallery ‘til the—’til December, ‘til school close—closes. The show is open until 10:00 to 2:00, everyday in the Winter Haven gallery, and the student exhibition showcases—paintings, drawings, designs—prints, photos, sculptures, ceramics, all of—all of those categories of art, and are awards are sponsored by AOE Art Supply in Tampa. So, those students are very excited about receiving prizes and—art supplies and we also give out a scholarship—for this exhibition. And our show will be judged by Alexander Rich from Florida Southern College.
LB: Very cool! Well now you guys know, you can look and take Holly’s class!
[MF & HS Laughs]
LB: And she loves graveyards!
LB: And fire! And—
HS: Well, I do have a since of humor too!
HS: So, I’m not always so serious!
HS: But so, you know, if you were to take one of my classes, we would not be talking about all of these topics. But what I do like about—art in general, taking any class, especially design, students who take design. You know, we’re learning how to make stuff. It’s not—always about why we’re making it, but what’s really cool about design is that we do—I do try to encourage student to add meaning to what they’re doing, and through learning technical skills, how to make something, craftmanship, all of that. Through leaning—you know—how can this mean something, to me or to someone else, to the viewer? And we work through that a little bit, and we occasionally touch on—on some topics. Right? Art is interdisciplinary, so it touches—
HS: And talks about all other disciplines, and that’s what—we’re kind of the neutral zone, where we can express ourselves, and design and create and—talk about those things that maybe other people aren’t comfortable talking about. But—yeah, we’re not going to visit graveyards in my class or anything like that.
MF: Darn! Yeah! [Laughs]
HS: We’ll just—I’m mean we’ll just learn to paint, learn to draw—
HS: And talk about—talk about—you know—What’s good art? What’s bad art? And how we decide those things, and how we make—culture.
LB: Yeah, that’s awesome! And we’ll definitely—have some links below, where you can see some of Holly’s artwork.
HS: Sounds good!
MF: Thanks guys! Thanks for tuning into POLKcast!
LB: Awesome, Thanks!