There are two sides to Brian Scott’s installation in the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Visible Vault. The public side that you see from the observation deck shows six squares of intensely colored fractured glass framed in cast aluminum and mounted on corroded steel.
The back side has graffiti painted in honor of his late sister Patricia Scott. And likely the only people who will ever see that side will be the curators who move it. But it makes Scott’s eyes gleam when he thinks about someone stumbling on the memorial.
Scott is just that kind of man and artist. Burly enough to lug around 150-pound steel murals, but so mischievous he wore a turquoise paperclip on his baseball cap last week just to see if anyone would notice. He said he wanted to add a plastic clip — the kind you use to close a bag of potato chips — but a friend talked him into attaching something more subtle.
Scott’s art uses cast-off auto parts and turns them into something beautiful. After working as a graphic designer for years and running his own T-shirt printing operation, Scott studied art at Montana State University Billings and worked under art professors Brian Cast and Connie Landis. He learned from Cast the techniques Scott uses to cast aluminum to frame glass and attach it to large pieces of recycled steel.
Scott calls it Post Industrial art.
“That’s the nice part about using recycled steel, it’s already on its way,’’ Scott said. “The pieces decide where they are going,’’ Scott said. “The story is about the going.’’
YAM executive director Robyn Peterson said that when Scott had his solo exhibit at the YAM in 2007, the YAM bought two pieces for the permanent collection, impressed by the dynamic way Scott turns refuge into art.
“He salvages a lot of waste to make his pieces,’’ Peterson said. “The Post Industrial idea speaks to the amount of used and now disused material that most people consider waste, something with no value. Brian is one of a number of artists who use those products to make art.’’
Scott’s totems of glass, steel and aluminum have been around Billings for years and he has submitted work in the Yellowstone Art Museum’s annual art auction for several years, including wall-mounted pieces. Peterson said those are among the reasons Scott was selected as YAM’s Artist of the Year last month.
“Brian over the years has been quietly present and generous. He is very supportive of the museum and understands its importance to the community and to practicing artists.’’
The YAM didn’t ask Scott to make his own award plaque for the celebration last month, but as usual Scott made the other five for the honorees. He even considered making the glass award for John W. and Carol L.H. Green as philanthropists of the year green instead of the planned blue, in honor of their name.
Scott said he was always the kid in school who gravitated toward art, rather than science. The switch from two-dimensional to three-dimensional artwork provided the impetus Scott needed to get excited about the process as much as the product. His work is growing in demand and Scott said 50 percent of his projects are commissioned pieces. One recent work he constructed to go on the deck of a swimming pool provided an interesting challenge for Scott because it had to be durable and smooth enough to walk on, yet striking enough to live up to Scott’s reputation. The project led him to apply more paint to his mixed-media pieces. He recently delivered a series of new works using painted surfaces to the Fresh Art Gallery in Denver and plans to make another trip to Santa Fe, N.M., this fall to deliver another batch of work.
“They’re bright and happy,’’ Scott said, noting that the new work reflects his improved outlook on life.
The work in the YAM’s Visible Vault, “The New Normal,’’ measures about 8 feet by 6 feet and weighs 150 pounds. It takes up most of one wall in the acquisition room at the Visible Vault where new pieces will enter the vault and adjust to the climate-controlled facility. Scott said when he was deciding where to place the glass and aluminum squares on the piece, he laid it flat on the floor in his studio and climbed up a ladder to look down on it. He cast 18 glass and aluminum squares and selected six to attach to the piece.
“It’s not like you can use sticky tape to attach these squares to hold up and figure out which ones look best,’’ Scott said.
The colors represent different aspects of his sister’s life and the piece is dedicated to her. Most of the corrosion was already on the steel piece when he bought it at a local recycler. When he needs more, he mixes up an acidic cocktail of vinegar, salt and water to speed things up. The rust is a living organism and it will continue to move and change, although Scott said he stunts its growth by using automotive sealant to cover his artwork.
“I’m just not a control freak and I would never decide I wanted the rust to be a set way,’’ Scott said.