Q& A with Scott Gordley, Ringling College’s new head of illustration

Many years ago, painter Scott Gordley was a student at Ringling College of Art and Design. Now, he’s back in Sarasota as Ringling’s Head of Illustration. Here are some highlights from the Herald-Tribune’s interview with him.

Q: Is it strange to be a faculty member at a place where you were once a student?

A: It felt like coming home. For some reason, there’s a connection. There’s an awful lot of people from Ringling who gravitated north to New York, and we would get together up there. Those friendships are the ones that lasted the longest. They’re still my friends. I’ve attended three other colleges, and I can’t say that about the other three. Ringling has all these kindred souls of like mind, and when you’re all there in a creative environment, you get really close. I see that with my students today, and it’s incredible I think.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?


Scott Gordley’s painting “Scorpion,” one of his favorites, hangs in a spare bedroom in his home. COURTESY PHOTO BY SCOTT GORDLEY.

A: I knew what I wanted to do from the first thoughts of speculating on what I would be. It’s not what you do for a living — It’s what I would be. It’s different. You don’t think about being a hedge fund trader when you’re five. But you do think about being an artist, being creative. Ringling was kind of an eye opener for me, where every student was into this.

Q: At what point in your artistic career did you feel that you’d made it? Or have you felt that way?

A: There was one very wealthy man who lost his wife and wanted to do something that honored her, so we worked together for six months on this painting. He wanted it to be very classical, music and cherubs and the like. When I finally did the unveiling, he just bowed his head. I didn’t know if he liked the painting, I was so nervous — and his shoulders started to shake and he just started crying. He put his arm around me and said “this is our masterpiece.” It was the first time I ever even considered that word for a painting I’d done — masterpiece. And I’m not sure that it is, but if I ever did anything that’s that monumental it’s that painting.

Q: What’s been the most important lesson you’ve learned through your art?

A: I lost all my work in ‘91, to a fire. My studio burnt to the ground and I lost 80 pieces of art I was getting ready for a museum show. It might have been a positive, funnily enough. I certainly lost all those paintings I’d done but I realized they were just…things, you know? I could paint more. It kind of cleaned the slate a little bit. I didn’t look at the work as precious as I used to. It’s just a painting, and I think I’m comfortable with that.

Q: Is there a specific lesson you’re trying to impart to your senior students as they’re finishing up school and getting out into the world?

A: I always say it’s a successful class when it feels a little bit like group therapy. Where people are talking and sharing ideas, not afraid to risk their own ego talking about something. Making art is a creative thing, a risky thing. And in a classroom environment, it’s got to be safe to take those risks. I’ve had students break down while presenting something personal. And the whole class just kind of mentally gathers around that person. In those moments, teaching really feels rewarding because you just facilitated this thing, this person evolving a little bit, or at least taking a step to take a risk.



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