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Painter Scott Pope Presents ‘Mind·Paint·Prayer’ at OCAF

Three primary colors: red, yellow and blue, plus white. In “Mind·Paint·Prayer,” Scott Pope’s exhibition currently on view at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF) in Watkinsville through Friday, Feb. 19, these are the only pure colors the artist uses to create astoundingly colorful paintings. Pope chases, watches, ponders and captures breathtaking Georgia sunsets to share in his extraordinary paintings.

“I am painting so that others can see,” says Pope, whom many know as the longtime owner of The Loft Art Supply store. The retail shop that began life 40 years ago (38 under Pope’s care) in a loft space on College Square in downtown Athens now makes its home on Baxter Street. 

Pope has been painting for his entire career. Over the years, various themes have appeared. In the 1980s his theme was “The Road”—paintings of roads and skies, landscapes and movement—a reflection of the many roads traveled in Pope’s own life. His work was met with critical acclaim; during that time he was represented by the Heath Gallery in Atlanta, notable in that period for promoting contemporary art in Georgia. Pope then focused on exploring flowers and vegetation for a number of years, and in the 2000s began working on his Clouds series—paintings of skies, sunsets and clouds—conveying the vastness of the sky. In each of these subjects, Pope seeks to discover the translucent, the transitory, the swiftness of life. Intrigued by transparent layers of color, his early work began with watercolor on paper, and that same fascination informs his current oil paintings.

The Loft retail shop itself offers not only art supplies, but also a center of creative energy that inspires and nurtures the artistic community. Over the years countless artists—famous and unknown, art professors, art students and independent artists—have worked at The Loft, purchased art supplies there and engaged in discussions of philosophy and technique within its walls, elevating the quality of art that has emerged out of Athens.

Pope, an art school dropout, completed a degree in journalism at UGA. He knew as long ago as 1977, when he returned to Athens to take over The Loft, that his mission was to serve people. He needed to find his own path, and he has spent the intervening four decades doing just that.

Pope received the “Best in Show” award at the 2015 OCAF Southworks Juried Art Exhibit, providing the opportunity for a solo exhibition at OCAF in 2016. He has spent the last year pursuing his exploration of clouds as an embodiment of spirit.

Sitting in the gallery, one is surrounded by a quiet sense of joy. The paintings—some representational, some abstract—fill the space with color and depth. Read what you like into the paintings; they are open for interpretation. Titles such as “Sweeping Sky,” “Light versus Darkness” and “Behold,” offer clues about what the artist is up to. Asked about the exhibit’s title, Pope says, “The ‘Mind’ knows a concept and sees an image. ‘Paint’ is the substance as well as a physical act. And ‘Prayer’ is a part of the process of creation.” 

Pope’s paintings evoke the fleeting moments of time, capturing the magnificent colors of a bank of clouds or the progression of a sunset. Wordsworth referred to such ephemeral moments as “spots in time,” explains Pope. With this in mind, Pope began this series of work with four small paintings, oil pastels on canvas that reveal the texture of the surface below, allowing the viewer to peer through layers of color. Pope’s work emphasizes process as much as product. Transparent layers reveal the story of the painting’s creation, the applications of layers of color to the canvas, and the mixing of colors into lights and darks. There is no true black in Pope’s paintings; all of his colors are mixed from the three primary colors.

Pope’s painting “Passing Storm II” epitomizes his work. Bold swaths of color sweep across the large canvas as a bright aqua reaches out to the viewer from the horizon line. The painting vacillates between the concrete (a landscape) and the abstract (pure color). Pope has incorporated a form of mark-making into this painting—drawn lines that explore a way of describing the painting process and of playing with the discovery of the picture plane. A small white line scratched into the paint exposes the canvas beneath, balancing a sense of being in awe of the heavens with a reminder that this painting is an earthly, human creation.

“These fleeting moments evoke a response universal in terms of moving people, no matter who or where they are,” Pope notes. He takes seriously the act of creating art while connecting to the spirit behind the work. Pope’s explorations are driven by a key question: “What am I doing here?”

 “As I ask the question,” Pope affirms, “I hear the answer: ‘I want to help people feel joy.’”