Museum Exhibition Puts Scott Avett’s Visual Art in the Spotlight
LEFT: Scott Avett, Fatherhood (2013). Oil on canvas, 106 x 65 inches, Courtesy of the artist, © 2019 Scott Avett; Photograph: Lydia Bittner-Baird
Even as the spotlight has shone brightly on The Avett Brothers’ music for the past two decades, Scott Avett has been making another kind of art all the while. His visual art — paintings and prints that explore his own busy mind, often at a gigantic scale — is getting its first solo museum exhibition this fall at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.
The exhibition, called Scott Avett: I N V I S I B L E, will open Oct. 12 and run through Feb. 2, 2020, and feature his work from the last 20 years. The title playfully invokes the idea that his visual art side is almost a secret, though unintentionally. (Music fans have gotten a taste of it through portraits used for the covers of The Avett Brothers’ 2009 album I and Love and You and Brandi Carlile’s By the Way, I Forgive You in 2018.) To Avett, however, it’s always been front and center.
“In a weird way, it’s always been my number-one priority, and everything else sort of cascades off of that,” he says. “Sometimes I think everything’s sort of just a distraction from that.”
He follows that last part with a chuckle, adding that he doesn’t really believe in distractions when it comes to artistic work, whether it’s music or paintings. It’s all creating, after all.
“Conceptually, really you shouldn’t separate them,” he says. “They’re all the same. I try to speak in plain terms, I try to write in plain and true-to-form terms to myself, and I try to paint true-to-form of myself.”
Of course, there are practical limitations to an artistic life in multiple media. He can’t stretch a 9-by-7-foot canvas on the tour bus — but he can order supplies that he knows he’ll want when he gets home. And, of course, there’s much work to be done in the artist’s mind before a brush ever touches canvas.
“On the road if I feel the need, usually I’m either taking in data as far as images that I see or I’m just contemplating and it’s … preparing for what is the next.”
Having two artistic outlets also helps keep things fresh on both sides, says Avett, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from East Carolina University.
“My consistency in painting has been really strong for the past 20 years because I’ve had no deadlines to push me to do something too fast. I’ve also had nothing to really slow me down because I spend enough time away on the road that I’m always eager to get back to it,” he explains. “So it’s been really healthy for me.”
A big aim he has for this museum exhibition is to show viewers that making art is important, no matter who you are.
From a young age, he says, “I was infused with this belief that it matters. It matters what you see and what you feel and what you put out there into the world. You can make beautiful things.”
You can do so, he says, without career or financial motivations. For him, “it’s just a life.”
“I would be excited if young people … saw (the exhibition) and were moved by it and said, ‘Wait a second, I can do this. It doesn’t have to be an end-all, make-it-or-break-it career thing, it can be something that I do, that I live.’”
He continues: “I have a faith in the importance in each of us expressing ourselves and making what we’re called to make, and I hope that I can exemplify that though showing what I’ve made along the way and am making.”
Because of the large space his studio in Concord, North Carolina, affords, because of his painting style, and because of the emotional scale of the concepts Avett captures on canvas, his paintings tend to be very large — literally larger than life, when it comes to his portraits and self-portraits. And that squares with the sounds he and his brother and bandmates make on stage. As a trio more than a decade ago, their songs seemed improbably huge. Now, with more members, more instruments, and bigger spaces to fill, they’ve expanded their palette as well as their fanbase.
“I noticed,” Scott says of his paintings, “I would work into any space that I had to sort of push the limits of it. I do it in my life, in song, and in performance. It’s like whatever the space is, you just want to bust the seams of that space.”
The Scott Avett: I N V I S I B L E exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh will run Oct. 12, 2019 – Feb. 2, 2020. More images from Scott Avett: I N V I S I B L E will be featured in our Winter 2019 print issue. To be the first to receive that issue when it comes out in mid-November, make sure you subscribe now.