One of the many tragedies prompted by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was the displacement of many lifelong residents from their beloved hometown of New Orleans. Among them was a remarkable and widely acclaimed artist who many, 15 years after his death, still regard as the most prolific sculptor in the legendary southern city.
The multitalented John T. Scott repped his city well. Heavily influenced by New Orleans’ unique culture, jazz music, and Afro-Caribbean elements, Scott was known for his unique, diverse, and eclectic-yet-communal approach to art, perhaps most reflected by his famous “kinetic sculptures” that moved, according to him, “with the rhythm of the city.” His works, large both in quantity and scale, blended motion and vivid colors while incorporating such materials in his sculptures as steel, cast bronze, bent hardwood, and brass strips of wire.
Born in New Orleans in 1940, Scott was raised in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward by a mother who taught him embroidery and a father who chauffeured and cooked for a local restaurant. He first attended Xavier University near home before enrolling at Michigan State University where he studied under Jackson Pollock’s brother, painter Charles Pollock. Upon receiving his MFA in 1965, Scott returned to New Orleans where he taught art at Xavier for 40 years.
In the 1980s, while teaching, the open-minded Scott produced woodprints and mixed-media collages along with his trademark kinetic sculptures. His reputation grew as his stunning work received wide acclaim and, in 1992, he was awarded the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Three years later, Scott received an honorary Doctor of Humanities from Michigan State University and, soon after, a Doctor of Humanities from Tulane University in New Orleans.
In May 2005, “Circle Dance: John T. Scott Retrospective” debuted at the New Orleans Museum of Art. In an interview at the time with WWNO FM Radio, Scott offered, “The way that I work is similar to the way a conductor conducts a symphony. You know, when the guy is conducting, he’s got 50 instruments out there. He can hear them all collectively, and he hears them individually… simultaneously. When I work in my studio, I may work in calligraphy, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, or whatever else happens to be in here at the time and I see no conflict in that whatsoever.”
In August 2005, three months after his Circle Dance debut, Scott fled to Houston, Texas as Hurricane Katrina devastated his beloved city.
Two years later, on September 1, 2007, John T. Scott died at Methodist Hospital in Houston after receiving double-lung transplants for a lengthy battle with pulmonary fibrosis. His extraordinary art lives on at Xavier University and numerous public sites in New Orleans.
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