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Iris Scott, the World’s First Professional Finger-Painter, Launches NYC Show

While the artist isn’t the first to use finger painting in her work, she is the first to dedicate her career to the technique

Iris Scott, "Tiger Fire," 2019 (Photo courtesy of Filo Sofi Arts)
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Iris Scott’s works are known for incorporating as many as 100 pigments in their exploration of both the natural and the fantastical. But the artist's lush, large-scale paintings, assemblage sculptures, and wearable art are equally impressive for their maker's singular creative process: Rather than relying on paintbrushes and palette knives, Scott takes a tactile approach, using paint-covered latex gloves to spread gobs of pigment across the canvas. In other words, the effect she achieves is thanks to finger painting. Scott is the world’s first full-time professional finger-painter, and now she’s spearheading a show at New York City’s Filo Sofi Arts gallery.

Titled Ritual in Pairing, the exhibition centers on “nature’s unequivocal beauty,” particularly in relation to human identity, relationships and the laws of attraction. Speaking with My Modern Met’s Sara Barnes, Scott notes that both humans and animals “peacock,” or show off, for attention, flaunting “[their] beauty in displays that overflow with exuberant, jaw-dropping spectacle.”

Scott tells Artnet News’ Sarah Cascone that she first realized how versatile finger painting was while living in Taiwan in 2010. Too tired to clean her brushes, the artist, who was born in Maple Valley, Washington, used her fingertips to add finishing touches to a nearly complete oil painting.

“I remember thinking, ‘Woah, that’s very juicy. I can really kind of sculpt this like clay,'” Scott says. “... I was like, ‘I’m going to dedicate myself to finger painting,’ [and] now it’s ten years later.”

As Scott notes in an FAQ posted on her website, she is not the first professional artist to employ finger painting. She does, however, claim to be the first artist to “exclusively dedicate her career to finger painting.”

To date, Scott has made nearly 500 finger paintings. In general, it takes her several days to plan out her creations and another few weeks to transform them into reality. Cascone notes the layers of paint the artist applies to a single canvas are often so thick they take five weeks to dry.

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Iris Scott's latest portraits feature limited brushwork on the subjects' faces and arms (Photo courtesy of Filo Sofi Arts)

Ritual in Pairing comments on how the art world tends to devalue notions of surface beauty in favor of high-brow conceptualism. Scott, leader of the so-called Instinctualist movement, encourages viewers to experience art through its beauty and color. “We instinctualists have no concepts. The work of art is to be experienced. The only concept is the gasp,” she explains in the text for the Filo Sofi Arts exhibition, which features works like “Tiger Fire,” an enormous painting that depicts the animal prowling through blue-hued trees and serpentine tall grasses. Overwhelming in scale, color and sheer vibrancy, the work reflects Scott’s preoccupation with nature’s beauty.

Another show highlight, “I of the Needle,” is also designed to dazzle the senses, focusing on a woman donning a floor-length gown of kaleidoscopic rainbow colors. The effect is similar to that of a gilded peacock plume and is complemented by the artist’s first use of brushwork in nearly a decade. (As Scott writes on her website, seven-inch faces like the one seen in the painting are “impossible to execute realistically without the use of brushes.”)

The NYC show, on view through May 30, is set to culminate in an interactive piece staged next week. According to Filo Sofi Arts’ website, the performance, scheduled for May 17, will find Scott—balancing on stilts while dressed in a nine-foot, finger-painted gown based on the one seen in “I of the Needle”—“peacocking” for visitors. A post on the artist’s Facebook page calls the act a “metaphoric rebirth,” fusing together her use of different mediums and the “powerful connections between human rituals and the animal world.”

Ritual in Pairing is on view at New York’s Filo Sofi Arts through May 30. A special performance by the artist will take place on Friday, May 17 at 6 p.m.

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