Scott McNeill, “wood sculptor carves colorful forest of ideas,” Daily News, 1999




Wood Sculptor Carves Colorful Forest of Ideas

Daily News-Sun

Feb 20, 1999

To most merchants the word "gouging" is a potential insult. For Scott McNeill, however, it’s become a way of life.

McNeill is among 28 artists who have samples of their creations on display in the West Valley Art Museum’s current exhibit "Rings of Time," on view through March 15. Despite the number of pieces on display – approximately 60 – McNeill’s stands out on the basis of size, color and imagination. His art is of the real trail-blazing variety, not so much in the techniques involved, but in regard to his manipulation of a self-designed concept. His idea came about by "happenstance."

"I dreamed about a new painting I was about to start, and it transformed into relief sculpture," he recalls. "This was foreshadowing."

Fresh out of college with a degree in marketing, McNeill also a painter was sent to Valley of the Angels in Honduras as a business consultant to a large artisans’ cooperative. Not only did McNeill help artisans with promotion, pricing and international sales, he painted more than 17 murals and signs throughout the village.

For the local hardware store, he created a 12-foot saw of painted wood with a 10-foot hammer hanging below it. Along the way he became an accomplished wood sculptor.

Valley of the Angeles happened to be the center of a centuries-old tradition of Honduran wood carving, which put McNeill in the right place at the right time.

"I made friends with many artists, including the master wood carver of the country," McNeill said. "I traveled to fairs with him and slept in his booth in a hammock. After my stint with the Peace Corps ended, I stayed in the town to learn carving."

"All the carving tools were made by a little man who lived in the nearby cloud forest. He melted car springs for the steel and took four months to make them. I had just gotten my tools and built a table, and when I came back home, I was completely robbed, everything, all the tools."

"My friend the master carver, came by and said, ‘Why don’t you come to our workshop, you can use our tools.’ I knew I would stay there as long as it took to learn," said McNeill, who was the first foreigner to apprentice there.

"I worked a 50-hour week learning wood characteristics, joint preparation, multiple carving techniques, stains. I learned fast, and I took carvings beyond their traditional forms; I began painting my carvings," McNeill said.

At this point, his professional career began to take shape.

"In four months, I was selling in booths to the tourists. From there, I went to another shop. Other carvers stopped by and shared ideas. Months passed, and soon, it was three years later," he said.

Returning stateside, McNeill lived in Olympia Wash., displaying his art in local galleries. Things looked bright until a recreational accident put a roadblock in his way. While snowboarding, he crushed his vertebrae. "I lay 15 minutes, then walked down the mountain in three inch steps," he said. "I was strong and very athletic, so I tried to get better for three months by putting Tiger Balm on my back. Then I sprained it lifting a heavy box. This finally caused me to see a doctor. I moved back home to the Phoenix area. My work is very physical and I recovered quickly."

In the current exhibition, McNeill’s talent is aptly expressed in his relief sculptures, complicated and intense works that combine multiple dimensions.

Large wood panels are filled with a deeply carved series of images, then brightly painted.

"The carving has to be planned, with a detailed preliminary design," he said. "All the images are carved from a single block of wood."

"The painting has more leeway. By carving different scenes within one piece of wood, then superimposing another scene over it in paint, I can allude to relationships between singular and multiple events. Each moment has the past and future within it," he said.

"When I look at the wood," he said, "…I see relationships, so what I create becomes a series of visual questions."

McNeill’s work often ends up weighing around 50 lbs., approximately two-thirds of what the wood weighs when he begins. To get to the final product, he uses his collection of approximately 40 tools to dig, shape and smooth the design. His use of vivid colors serves a two-fold purpose: A) they are powerful and eye-catching; and B) by using a less intense value of the same color, he can create a vast assortment of visual perceptions.

The artist’s current wood of choice is basswood; a hardwood, which he said, is readily available.

Unlike many stone sculptors who believe a particular piece of stone only contains one internal form begging to be freed, McNeill says, "everything exists within the wood. There is not just one idea in there; the finished piece is the result of what I choose to imagine. That process can go in many directions."

• Artwork • Videos • Info • Contact • join mailing list  •