exhibition
John Scott, Second Strike, 1981. Oil stick, graphite & varsol on paper. NGC Collection. © John Scott
John Scott, Second Strike, 1981. Oil stick, graphite & varsol on paper. NGC Collection. © John Scott

One of the realities is that any kind of production, especially since the industrial age, is going to involve a great loss of human life. It can be said that blood is the lubricant of the modern industrial world.”

John Scott, 1997

John Scott views himself as a political activist and blue-collar artist. His work combines counterculture aesthetics of the late 1970s and the 1980s with a sociological ideology that is wary of the consequences and human cost of a capitalist ethos and economy. Through drawings, installations and transformed objects, Scott presents an apocalyptic vision of a world ravaged by war and threatened by destruction.

Before Scott completed grade 10, he had left school to work in a factory. He soon became involved in union activity and would later become sensitized to workers’ rights and larger political issues. He was also influenced by the Toronto street culture of heavy rock music and fast cars.

Scott’s bold and rough graphic drawings are characteristically crude, often made with the cheapest materials at hand. One of his working methods was to repeatedly soak paper in solvent and develop an image by grinding-in dark pigments, thick black paint, graphite and charcoal. Scott has depicted dark warplanes hovering over destroyed landscapes devoid of human presence. He has also drawn rabbit-like figures to stand in for the anxiety-ridden human being, the harassed victim of the technological threat and militaristic oppression. Heavy dark lines record an impending sense of tragedy and terror.

Perhaps Scott’s best-known work, Trans-Am Apocalypse No. 2 (1993) is a black, modified Pontiac Trans-Am that has text scratched into its surface from the Bible’s Book of Revelations of St. John the Evangelist. Scott’s intent was to suggest that, if the apocalyptic horsemen were to appear today, the muscle car would be a more impressive vehicle for their arrival. Scott considers the car’s substantial link to a macho masculine identity, suggesting that the car is symbolic of flaws of the male sex, which may drive humanity to destruction. As cars also generate pollution, he sees environmental damage as another step toward an apocalyptic world.

John Scott was the recipient of a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2000. He lives in Toronto.