Another side of Scott Prior: Graphic work by noted painter is just one part of new exhibits at Anchor House of Artists

  • Scott Prior reviews some of his graphite works from the 1970s, in this case a fictional publication, “Mr. Roosevelt's Half Dime Library.” They’re part of “A Different Take on Scott Prior,” a new exhibit at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Scott Prior talks about some of his early work included in the exhibit “A Different Take on Scott Prior” at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton. He originally studied printmaking at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Artist Scott Prior, left, talks with Gazette writer Steve Pfarrer about a collection of his earlier works, now featured in three gallery rooms at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Painter Scott Prior talks about his work in a new exhibit at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton. The work of Leonard Baskin was one of the inspirations for Prior’s early printmaking and drawing. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A 1969 graphite work that’s part of “A Different Take on Scott Prior,” an exhibit of Prior’s early printmaking and drawing now on view at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This 1977 graphite work by Scott Prior is one of five covers of an imaginary publication, “Mr. Roosevelt’s Half Dime Library,” that are part of “A Different Take on Scott Prior” at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail of a 1969 graphite work by Scott Prior in “A Different Take on Scott Prior” at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail from a Prior drawing based on a 1929 photograph of President Herbert Hoover meeting with American businessmen, with one notable exception: He drew himself standing in the center of the piece, two heads to the left of Hoover.

  • This work, set in a purposely off-kilter frame, is part of a new Scott Prior exhibit at Anchor House of Artists.

  • Scott Prior says he gravitated to more humourous work, like the painting on a toilet seat lid seen above him, before creating his distinctive painting style later in his career. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • This toilet seat lid, painted with a nod to an early Renassaince style, is part of “A Different Take on Scott Prior” at Anchor House of Artists in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Artist Scott Prior, left, meets with Anchor House of Artists co-directors Susan Foley and Michael Tillyer at the Northampton gallery. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Prior’s early printmaking and drawing showcased a more satiric and eclectic side of the artist before he developed his trademark representational painting style. Image courtesy Anchor House of Artists

  • Anchor House of Artists co-directors Michael Tillyer and Susan Foley with a multimedia sculpture by artist Andre Bowser, creator of the “Pandemic Fluck Series,” one of four new exhibits at the Northampton gallery. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail of a floor-to-ceiling installation, “Memoria,” by Northampton artist Phil Lawrence at Anchor House of Artists. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A ballpoint drawing by Amherst artist James Brown that’s part of his exhibit, “Nothing So Alone as Alone,” at Anchor House of Artists. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Paintings and drawings by James Brown are part of four new exhibits at Anchor House of Artists. CONTRIBUTED/Anchor House of Artists

  • Anchor House of Artists founding director Michael Tillyer and co-director Susan Foley, seen at their new exhibit, “A Different Take on Scott Prior.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2021 4:02:13 PM

Before he developed a trademark style that merged a unique treatment of light, careful attention to detail and portraits of lush but lived-in landscapes, Valley painter Scott Prior studied printmaking at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and, after his graduation in the early 1970s, soaked up the work of area artists such as printmaker and sculptor Leonard Baskin and painter Gregory Gillespie.

It took him awhile to develop as a painter and to settle on the style that, broadly, came to be described as “realist” for its rich use of color and representational aesthetic. And while that was happening, Prior was producing a wide range of prints and graphic art that revealed a very different kind of look: satiric, surreal, eclectic and droll.

Much of that work is being shown collectively for the first time in a new exhibit at Northampton’s Anchor House of Artists in a show called, appropriately enough, “A Different Take on Scott Prior.” It’s one of four new exhibits Anchor has unveiled this week in a show that runs through May 29, and which will be marked by an artists’ reception on Friday, May 14, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Prior will also lead a discussion and a tour of his exhibit on May 21 from 6 to 8 p.m.

From a drawing in which he’s added himself to a group of serious-looking men from nearly 100 years ago, to a painting with a religious motif that’s fashioned on a toilet seat lid, to a drawing of the goofy members of an imaginary club, this is indeed a Scott Prior most people may not recognize.

In a visit to the galley earlier this week, Prior, formerly of Northampton and now living in Shelburne Falls, said he’s continued to do printmaking over the years, sometimes as studies for his paintings, and that earlier in his career he had exhibited some of that work.

But in talking with Michael Tillyer, the founder and co-director of Anchor House, Prior thought the gallery could be a good place for a show that offered a broader look at his printmaking as well as his drawing, including pen and ink works and ink washes.

“I’ve known Michael for years and always admired what he’s done here,” Prior said. “And we discussed how this could be a good place for a show that looks at the work I did before I developed a more settled style … where a lot of the earlier stuff was more fun.”

For his part, Tillyer notes that he’s long envisioned Anchor as a place for artists to show the work they’re interested in. He founded the gallery and organization in the late 1990s to help support artists dealing with mental illness, both through the use of subsidized studio space and as a place for displaying work. He later expanded to include work by visiting artists.

“We’ve always taken the position that we want to display the work artists want to show, not what we want to show,” he said.

Some of Prior’s earlier art offers a nod to Baskin’s prints and drawings, with offbeat portraits of people featuring distorted features, like bulbous noses and wide mouths full of teeth. These expressive prints, some in color, have a distinctive quality of line and feature the same attention to detail found in his paintings.

There’s plenty of humor here, too — a quality certainly found in some of his paintings, though it’s perhaps more subtle there. Here’s it more overt, more satiric, with a sense of the absurd.

Prior found inspiration for one early piece after coming across a 1929 photo of members of the American Pharmaceutical Association (now called the American Pharmacists Association) with President Herbert Hoover. He redid the photo as a graphite drawing and added himself to the images of prosperous-looking men in suits and coats; he’s two heads away from Hoover.

For a drawing entitled “Meeting of the Science Fiction Club,” he presents several nerdy-looking men smiling awkwardly at the viewer, along with a single woman, as well as a male figure with a blank face. It has a 1950s vibe, as does an adjacent drawing of a dull-looking, unsmiling man in a suit, with horned-rim glasses, staring out from what might be a yearbook portrait. Alongside the image is a list of his interests and attributes, including this: “He likes people. People like him.”

The exhibit also includes several covers from a meticulously drawn, imaginary publication called “Mr. Roosevelt’s Half Dime Library,” which Prior created in reference to cheap publications that were popular in the early 20th century. One cover offers a teaser to a story about useful things to ask on a first date, such as “How do you spell your last name?”

Prior said that though his printmaking might no longer fall strictly under the rubric of “fun,” it’s still a consistent part of his art. And in exhibit notes, he adds that his earlier work “was more exploratory and eclectic. As a reflection on those years and in the spirit of freedom and fun, I have selected works from that era in my life to show here.”

There’s more ...

Anchor House has also just opened three smaller exhibits of work by local artists. James Brown, of Amherst, once studied at the Boston Museum School, and though Tillyer says Brown went through some difficult periods of life after that, he has continued to produce vibrant art. He’s a longtime member of Anchor House of Artists.

“Nothing So Alone as Alone” features dense ballpoint drawings of street scenes, solitary people and urban tableaus that, as Tillyer says, “catch life indelibly from the outside looking in.” The show includes several colorful arboreal paintings; there’s also a notable painting of a street scene whose tone and modernist lines recall something of the Ashcan School of Painters in New York in the early 20th century.

Conceptual artist Phil Lawrence of Northampton, meanwhile, creates large, geometrically patterned graphics built around the names of victims of war. Lawrence has used a quote that has been attributed Josef Stalin — “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” — as the basis of his work to showcase the inhumanity and impersonality of war.

And Andre Bowser, an active officer in the U.S. Air Force, contributes the Pandemic Fluck Series, a mix of wall hangings and freestanding multimedia sculptures that look at the huge problem of environmental degredation. His sculptures are made from the trash that surrounds us all — lottery tickets, plastic, paper — to which Bowser adds his own textures, words and graphics.

For more information on the new exhibits at Anchor House of Artists, visit anchorhouseartists.org or call 413-588-4337. Preregistering for visits is encouraged, and face masks are required. Donations in lieu of admissions are also encouraged.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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