Artist Scott Partridge and I sit at Amélie’s getting acquainted. A nearby print of the Mona Lisa, retrofitted with mirrored sunglasses, reflects a Kardashian self-awareness that could be straight out of da Vinci’s Instagram. Though not one of Scott’s pieces, it seems an appropriate backdrop for our conversation. I learn that he once created a custom digital painting for Charlotte’s Cowfish restaurant, called the “Mona Geisha,” reimagining the iconic subject as a traditional Japanese geisha.
Scott considers both fine art and graphic design to be equally important expressions of his work. Whether he’s working on a corporate commission, or something of his own, he says he “takes his cues from nature and geometry.” Like the work of the twentieth-century modernists he cites as inspiration, Scott’s paintings and digital collages seek to capture his subjects in a moment of time. They reveal in a flash of insight, that essential – and, at times, elusive – quality we must see if we are to fully appreciate the form in front of us.
He’s drawn to what he calls the “personality of shapes,” and through his work brings a range of universal emotions to a wide variety of subjects: from mother and baby elephants, to the tiniest kestrel falcons; from a digital collage of Abraham Lincoln, to a Lichtenstein-inspired mashup of fast food ad mascots in a lover’s spat. He imbues his subjects with a subtlety of universal emotions, reinforcing the hard-wired connections between human consciousness and the perceived sentience of the world we inhabit.
One of Scott’s primary influences is artist Charley Harper, active in the 1950s, 60s and into the 2000s. As a child, Scott would see Harper’s work, which he says was so “recognizable” in form and color, like a logo, that he remembered it and was later inspired by it when he sought his own style as an artist.
“[Harper was] a master of figuring out what’s the main thing about this subject that makes it that,” says Scott. “He takes away all the details that don’t contribute to its identity, and [you’re] left with the essence of it, conveyed in simple geometric forms.”
Scott’s process begins with a sketch. If what he’s working on will be more “improvisational,” he says it usually becomes a painting. For something more “modernist, geometric,” it will often become a digital composition. For the latter, he scans the sketch into Photoshop or Inkscape and turns it into vectors that can be layered with colors, images, and textures.
A native of Maine, Scott grew up spending much of his time outdoors. In middle school, he started sketching plants, pinecones, and small animals, with aspirations of being a natural science illustrator. He later went to Springfield College, where he studied art with a medical illustration concentration for two years, then transferred to Messiah College in Pennsylvania to study art for another year.
Questioning how what he was learning would connect to the artist’s path he envisioned, he left school and, in 1995, moved to Charlotte with one of his roommates. He’s been here ever since, beginning his career at a local print shop and learning how to use technology as another tool for his art. Scott says his formal education, particularly the time spent illustrating, was “useful practice for becoming familiar with structure of natural objects.”
When not in his studio, you can find Scott outside, hiking Charlotte’s nature preserves. We discuss the irony of knowing that one of his favorite subjects, the Barred Owl, can often be heard at night in his Plaza Midwood neighborhood. When I ask Scott if he imagines the owls lining up outside his window, primping and posing in an effort to win over his artistic attentions, he says, with kind eyes and a patient tone, “I don’t know.”
Scott Partridge is one of two featured artists chosen for Charlotte Lit’s upcoming 4X4CLT poster series. His work, along with that of artist Gabrielle Wolfe, will accompany the words of Beth Ann Fennelly, writer and Poet Laureate of Mississippi. Join us at our 4X4CLT release party on Friday, Dec. 1, from 7 to 9 pm, at Resident Culture Brewing Company, and look for the posters to be displayed at over 50 host locations throughout Charlotte.
In addition to his selection as a 4X4CLT artist, Scott was chosen to be a member of the ArtPop Street Gallery, class of 2017, and has his work on a billboard in Charlotte. Currently, his work also appears, along with the poetry of Marquis Love, as part of C3 Lab’s South End Verses public art project. You can find his work online and at various locations in the Carolinas and beyond. See www.jevaart.com.
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
Beth Ann Fennelly
W.W. Norton & Company
111 pages | Memoir | $22.95
Short forms are all the rage, lately, with the profusion of prose poems and flash fiction staking (small) claims on the pages of literary journals. Add to this genre-fluidity the “micro-memoir,” another short form employed virtuosically by Beth Ann Fennelly in her new collection Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs. These pieces range from a sentence or two, to several pages in length. Many are lighthearted. Some are lists. A few are prose poems in spirit: see “A Reckoning of Kisses” and, especially, “I Was Not Going to Be Your Typical.” This is not a bad thing. Fennelly is staking a claim here by writing however she damn well pleases.
A poet by trade, Fennelly serves as the poet laureate of Mississippi, but she’s also written fiction along with her husband, the novelist, Tom Franklin. The narrative slant of even the briefest of these micro-memoirs sends their stories reverberating further than their words. For instance, take this economical recounting of life among the long married, part of a series that runs throughout the book:
Married Love, II
There will come a day—let it be many years from now—when our kids realize no married couple ever needed to retreat at high noon behind the locked bedroom door to discuss taxes.
A rare honesty and self-deprecation weaves through these pages, often with humorous results. No spoilers here, but don’t miss the fun of “Why I’m So Well Read” and “One Doesn’t Always Wish to Converse on Airplanes,” the latter an oddball encounter just weird enough to ring true. Pull up a chair, Fennelly seems to offer, have I got one for you.
Her truth telling lands solid punches, too, when addressing more serious territory. Those who have had difficult relationships with aging parents will relate to her recounting of time spent with her father, in particular “Sweet Nothing.” The sudden loss of her sister, as detailed in “Grief Vacation” is heartwrenching. Quiet fury rages through “Goner.” At three pages, one of the longest memoirs in the book, it grapples with sexual abuse in Fennelly’s childhood church. She’s left the church, but it hasn’t left her. Catholicism’s ritual and language are a recurring theme.
As ever, Fennelly writes about motherhood with beautiful ferocity (notably in her 2004 poetry collection Tender Hooks). She returns to the subject here, refracting it through its complexity in the bold “What I Think About When Someone Uses ‘Pussy’ As A Synonym For ‘Weak,’” and this humorous piece:
When They Grow Up
My oldest child will hate me because I wrote an entire book about her. My middle child will hate me because I wrote hardly a word about him. But the baby; ah, the baby. When I write about him, I call it fiction, and I’m always sure to mention he has a big penis.
In midlife many of us have lost people we love and those we don’t. Children, if we have them, are growing or grown. We’ve lusted, and loved, and occasionally regretted it. Those who’ve not gotten there yet will appreciate Fennelly’s take on what’s to come. Heating & Cooling is an economical accounting of midlife that works by illuminating points on this timeline brightly enough to let the reader stitch together the whole.
We are thrilled to welcome Beth Ann Fennelly to Charlotte Lit December 1 and 2.
Fennelly, the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, is the featured poet on our upcoming 4X4CLT Series 2 Number 4 posters. December 1, she’ll read from and discuss her work at our poster release party, at Resident Culture Brewing Company, 7 to 9 pm. Park Road Books will be on hand with Fennelly’s books for sale.
If you’d like to try your hand at the micro-memoir form, Fennelly teaches a master class at Charlotte Lit the following day, December 2, from 10 am to 1 pm. Spaces are filling quickly for “Build Me a Hummingbird of Words: Tiny Texts.” Register at charlottelit.org/workshops.
Credits: Photo of Beth Ann Fennelly by Jon Cancelino