As we walk to the car at the end of a visit to his studio in the back of a Los Angeles bungalow, Scott Laufer points out the zombie figurine in the yard of the home across the street. “They put it up a few nights ago and I jumped the first time I saw it – it scared the shit out of me.” After spending the better part of the morning with him, it’s hard to imagine Laufer being startled by much of anything, let alone an un-dead hunk of rubber. There is an enviable knowingness to the way Laufer carries himself. A uniform of black and a pair of unlaced sneakers seems to intentionally muddle suggestions of both careful consideration and casual indifference. He speaks with the even keel of a radio host, and suggests his plans for the future with the sort of mild mannered confidence of a man who knows what he is saying to be true. His excitement for his work is betrayed by a quickening of his speech and a Newman-esque smirk that seems to appear unconsciously as he describes the pieces he is working on.
As he cleared his studio to prepare for guests, we spoke about Drake, Rubens, and how a childhood in the woods of rural Pennsylvania fueled his interest in the work the Italian Renaissance.
Can you give run me through your introduction to painting?
When I was a kid I used to draw paint, dinosaurs and football players and things like that. I got to about twelve years old and my interests turned to sports and skateboarding and girls – to being twelve. Art fell by the wayside, it became something I ‘used to do’. Flash forward and I’m living in LA just sort of floating. I had gotten fired from my job and really didn’t know what I was doing. So my mom, knowing that I used to really enjoy painting, sent me some oils and suggested I give painting another shot.
I hated it at first, the process was difficult and it wasn’t turning out how I wanted. In struggling with it I became determined to master it – I was at this point in my life where I felt like I wasn’t in control of anything, so I was determined to control this medium.
I worked at it for a few years, and then in late 2012 I took a few months and went back to rural Pennsylvania and I bought this book, some ridiculous title like Methods of the Old Masters off Amazon. I took this really academic approach to studying it. I completed two paintings while I was there and those became the foundations of my work today.
Was there some particular influence that drove you to this classical style?
I was baptized Catholic, and while my parents eventually left the Church, I grew up surrounded by that really heavy renaissance imagery. It grew into this love and respect for these kind of well made and finely crafted antiques and objects.
How did you come to live in LA? Is it relevant to your work?
LA became relevant over time. I was influenced by what was happening around me – I have a lot of friends who are musicians or actors. When I really started painting it was odd – people always thought it was interesting that I was a painter. There was an excitement around what I was doing because it was so different, and that drove me.
I just knew that I wanted to be in a creative environment because I didn’t feel like I was getting that in rural Pennsylvania. New York just seemed too close – and there’s just something very magical about California. I remember being in school and one of my fellow students visited her aunt in California for a week and that just seemed so foreign and luxurious.
Looking back now, there is a magic in my hometown that I never considered when I was there. I grew up in the woods running around playing knights and dragons and when I started painting I saw all these ideas that I would play with as a kid coming up again and again.
I ask too because my mental image of fine art in Los Angeles looks like the Baldassari’s and the Ruscha’s, and if I were to connect your work to anything I would say it was more cinematic.
I don’t think being surrounded by the film industry makes me want to create images that are more realistic, I would consider myself a realist but there is still a definite painterly quality to my work. People get caught on this hyper-realism, but I am more interested in what I can bring to a portrait beyond just the rendering of it. What drove me to realism was more a desire to have a skill – to be undeniably good at something. People may like my work or find it boring, but I like that there’s an undeniable skill there. I concerned myself with developing that skill for years before I ever showed my work to anyone and now I’m finally at a place where I’ve achieved a level of skill that I am now comfortable expanding to bigger ideas of theme and the exact emotion and idea I want to capture.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
I definitely see myself moving on from portraiture, and I would love to attempt more of the work of large scale narrative works in the vein of someone like Rubens. But I feel like I have this opportunity to carry on this great tradition of documenting the culturally significant people around me. The great painters of the past, they painted the clergy, royalty, artists and philosophers. I am surrounded by people who I feel are the equivalents and I want to pay my respects to them in the same way, by capturing and paying homage to the people who excite me.