Scott McNeill, “Painted carvings tell two stories,” AZ Republic, 1999




Art Inside Art

The Arizona Republic

Feb 27, 1999

Don’t expect to look lightly at Scott McNeill’s wood carvings. These are not works that you can casually stroll by. Expect to be transported into a vortex of bright colors, layers of detail and pleasingly familiar subjects.

It’s a dizzying, delightful trip. You must move your feet in and away from the pieces to discover the images McNeill has created. There are virtually two views within each picture. Through his intricate carving, McNeill creates one level of imagery close up. But step back and you’ll find that the acrylic paint he uses to color the wood forms another picture.

Take, for example, Road Quark. Peer into the picture from a few inches away, and you’ll see a whirling roadwork of cars and trucks, lanes of traffic travelling on some sort of stacked highway. Walk away about 6 feet and you’ll see the bigger picture, cars – big cars – floating across the wood. The piece is one of McNeill’s favorites, in part because of the art h created but also because of the reflection of space and time it can generate.

McNeill, who has several of his wood carvings on display through March 21 at the West Valley Art Museum in Surprise, said he hopes that it will give people pause. Not just the beauty of the piece; he’d like you consider, of all things, quantum physics. He uses the heady subject matter to explain Road Quark. The images represent "hypothetical building blocks of matter," he said casually.

This collection of cars is a "visible world of particles operating on different levels underneath the larger perception of matter," McNeill explained.

Whew. And you just thought it was a pretty picture. This synergy of space is mirrored throughout his pieces. Walk over to Was, Could, Should, Might, Will be, Is. Again, gaze at the scene before you and you’ll find a honeycomb of minipictures, signs of everyday life from birth to death. There are the toys of childhood, such as a doll, blocks and a ball, and there are the signs of life’s end, the grim reaper hovering over his next victim.

At the center of this web of pictures, you’ll get a sneak preview of what lies a few feet away. The view inside one of the frames has been re-created over the whole. The idea, McNeill said, is to think about addressing questions in life from multiple angles. "What unexpected truth might surface?" he asked. " Space is a paradox."

One wonders if McNeill has uncovered his own black hole in time. He has done so much, thought so much for being only 29. He never intended to be an artist, and painting was only a hobby. He got his college degree in marketing in 1992 and then signed up with the Peace Corps.

He landed in the Valley of the Angels in Honduras, assigned to work with the National Association of Honduran Artists. His job was to be a business consultant for a large artisan cooperative. While he helped with promotion, pricing and international sales, the artist inside blossomed. He worked on murals and signs throughout the village. He also learned to sculpt.

McNeill became friends with the master wood carver of the country. After his time in the Peace Corps expired in 1994, he stayed on, honing his carving skills. One night while he was away from his home, someone took his tools. His friend, the master carver, gave him hope. He invited McNeill into his workshop, letting him use his tools. "I became an apprentice, working 50, 60, 70 hours a week," he said. He decided to go beyond the traditional stained wood carvings. He began to paint images over his pieces. "It was something no one else was doing," McNeill said.

Three years later, he moved to Olympia, Wash., to display his work in local galleries. He’s had a few shows around the country but now lives in Phoenix. McNeill is considering whether to enter Arizona State University for graduate school, this time to study art.

For the time being, he continues to carve. You can see his current work in progress at the West Valley Art Museum. He has been working on a large piece of bass wood the past few weeks, taking time out to explain his work to visitors. The scene, which he said will take him about 300 hours to complete, is of the sea. McNeill smiled as he dug into the wood, his sharp knife cleanly passing over the body of a fish.

He is in no hurry, content to slowly carve out the layers of space in the 2-inch thick piece of wood. It seems so shallow for such a grand sweep of images. But then, space is relative, McNeill might say.

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