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Scott Moore

What the hell happened to Scott Moore’s studio? It appears that 1950 came out of retirement and decided to have a party at his place. Vintage toys, knick knacks and collectables are everywhere. A milkman’s hat, an old-school Animal Cracker box, a Popsicle wrapper and Maxwell House coffee can are all organized like trophies. A fifty year old bride and groom wedding cake topper is perched proudly on a shelf near half a dozen one foot tall antique Santa Clauses. There are all kinds of crazy clocks hanging around, including a timepiece stuffed in a chef’s belly and a porcelain cowboy/cowgirl clock. Moore’s art is always set in the good ole days, and listening to this storyteller tick is time well spent.

The trinkets are not just props; they are part of this Laguna Beach artist’s surreal identity. On his canvases, circus acts like the Fabulous Flying Ronzonis become boxes of Italian noodles floating overhead. To Scott the very existence of evaporated milk is confusing. “There shouldn’t be anything in the can when you open it,” he ponders. “It doesn’t make sense.” His artistic solution to this puzzling problem: a half dozen black and white cows floating out of an open milk can on the counter and straight out the kitchen window. When he was young, Scott spent a couple months living in his grandma’s attic and swears he saw a witch fly by the moon. He’s still pretty sure it actually happened, which may help explain a lot.

Moore’s art is not just about understanding the unusual; it’s about preserving precious memories. “I always loved things that stood the test of time like a package design on a piece of candy that was the same when I was a kid as it is now.” In his early 60’s now, eBay has become Scott’s new favorite candy store. When he’s not painting, he’s starting bidding wars. “I’m a fighter,” Moore explains. “When I design a painting in my head, I become dead set on what I need. I absolutely will not pass up something that I know is going to work. I’m going to outbid everybody no matter what.” In California Highways, a vintage tin car and travel trailer complete with a picnic stop, some Coca-Cola and a transistor radio offer up a road trip done the old-fashioned way. After weeks of searching, the perfect pieces of American nostalgia came from some guy in Australia.

By typing “1950, Hawaii, Porcelain” Moore found the gold boat clock that inspired Aloha, Waikiki. “I love its simplistic design and color,” he says. “The essence of a good design is something that has just the minimal amount of parts that still tells an incredible story.” Preserving them in a painting, however, is a painstakingly slow process. After the props are collected, Moore takes them outside into the noonday sun, arranges them just right and snaps several photos. “I won’t paint anything in the fog or haze,” he says. “I need crisp shadows because I really love the drama of setting up stage lighting.”

Then with a little less elegance than Tyra Banks, he searches for his next top model. “I go downtown sometimes and approach people and say, ‘I’m an artist and I need somebody. Can I get you back at the house tomorrow at noon for an hour?'” He compensates them well, but his subjects have to look and act the part. They dress in costume and freeze in position as Moore climbs up a ladder trying to photograph them at the same angle as he did the props. When all that is said and done, it’s finally time to stretch the canvas and get going. It takes up to a week just to get the piece drawn out and several months to add each intricate detail in oil. Oftentimes, objects appear bigger than people as Moore reminds us how tasty food can be, how exciting activities are, or how cool it is to simply get around town. And then with the versatility of a one-man orchestra, Moore redoes the entire piece in transparent watercolor. With nearly half a year gone by, Scott has just two paintings to show for all his hard work.

That’s why his art sells for tens of thousands of dollars and is among the most anticipated at the Festival of Arts each summer in Laguna Beach. Moore moved his family to Orange County in 1980 in order to gain entry into the lucrative show. He sold his beautiful, two-story home in Mission Viejo to move into a fixer-upper with leaky windows in Laguna. He kissed his $300 a month mortgage goodbye and began tasting the salty residue of sweat equity. Times weren’t always easy, but Scott never had to starve as a full-time artist despite his dad’s warning.

“No one makes a living as an artist,” Carl Moore told his five kids. He said it so many times, they all mimicked him. Carl graduated from Chouinard School of Art in Los Angeles and became the art director for an ad agency, but on Sundays everyone knew where to find him. “He went one of two places,” Scott remembers. “He’d go to Cerritos, which back then was called Dairy Valley because it was full of cows. You could tell before he showed you what he painted, because he had cow stuff up to his knees. Dad was very meticulous, worried about every hair on his body and how he looked, but he had no qualms about getting dirty to paint the cows. Or he’d come down to San Pedro Harbor to paint the tug boats. Sometimes we’d go with him. My brother and I would crawl around and throw rocks and mess up his reflections while he painted.”

Carl was meticulous with watercolor; tons and tons of tiny brushstrokes full of calligraphic detail. His paintings were something to be proud of, yet he gave most of them away. Carl was an older man before his spirits changed. He proudly watched his son prove him wrong about making a living as an artist, and eventually took classes from him. He found a way to blend his choppy style with Scott’s, retired to Palm Springs and began selling his work. It was a good way for a good man to go out.

As a kid, Scott never intended to be an artist. He wasn’t about to follow in anyone’s footsteps. He had the long, blonde hippy hair in the 1960’s and surfed as much as he slept. But lazy was not a word he understood. Instead he invented a language all his own and took his act on the road. At thirteen Scott rebuilt a dummy with Nutty Professor hair, a full beard and football cleats. He became such a good ventriloquist that his parents had to screen his calls. Scott would sit on the couch with his mom who helped write the gigs for hospitals and corporate events. But deep down Scott wanted something much more than audience applause. “We were having a party and everyone thought my act was kinda cool, but I couldn’t wait for all of them to leave, because I was sure (the dummy) could talk by himself. I took him in my room, closed the doors and I said, ‘Okay, everybody’s gone. I won’t tell anybody. Go ahead and talk.’ I sat there and I looked at him, and I knew in my heart if he told me something I would tell everybody. So I knew he knew that – and that’s why he wouldn’t talk.”

Scott went to a Catholic school that barely even had an art program. He did all the school’s posters and excelled each month when they brought the art cart around. With few options, Scott took his creativity out on his surf wagon. “I had a 1962 Ford Econoline van,” he remembers. “I decorated the inside and ceilings with masonite. I painted them white with gesso then did surreal paintings on these things kind of like Jefferson Airplane and whatever psychedelic things that were going on back then. I wasn’t a drug user, but I loved the art.”

But all that took a back burner to music. He’d been playing in a band since he was thirteen. By his junior year of high school, Scott was lead singer of an FM radio sounding group called Plum Goo. “We were playing at a Casey Kasem venue in Orange County – the hottest thing going on at the time.” The band almost made it and then they broke up. Over the years, he’s played in bands like Buck Naked & The Chapped Cheeks (he was a cheek) and The Plastic Diversion. On an excursion with The Diversion one night at a coffee house in Downey, fate danced into his life. It was nearly pitch dark in there, nothing but blacklights as his band belted it out. Scott was wearing a leather vest with Indian beads and white milkman pants. A cute girl in the front row liked the get-up and the guy. Her name was Carol and she, too, was dressed in white with white hair and white lip stick. “She was glowing in the dark all night long,” Scott says. After the show, Carol helped Scott take his bass out to the car and they set up a date. She was 14. He was 18. She lied. It all worked out. They’ve now been married 34 years and have two kids.

But before the “I Dos,” Scott had a major “Oh no!” It was 1970, and his draft number was 13. Rather than wait for the inevitable, he went and signed up with the Marines. When he showed up with shoulder length hair, John Lennon glasses and heart underwear (which Carol bought for him) sticking out of his shorts, it was clear he didn’t get the proper military protocol memo. The barber quickly shaved him like Benjamin Franklin and he was off to boot camp. For eleven weeks, Scott toughed it out. He could hit a target with a rifle from 500 yards, but his sergeant was more concerned with the surfing knots on his shins and his pop bottle glasses. “He’d always sneak up behind me and say in my ear, ‘I know you’re a hippy,’ Moore says. Finally that last week, his platoon was asked if anyone could draw. Scott and a few others raised their hands. The men were taken to a room, given paper and a stiff graphite pencil and told they had an hour. While the others drew trees and cars, Scott drew a military recruiting poster with a guy doing push-ups and another holding a rifle. He included shadows and detail. The drawings were picked up and no one said a thing.

Then on the last day before being shipped out to Camp Pendleton, that same sergeant listed off everyone’s orders. He read each private’s name one at a time. He’d gone through 299 of 300 and Scott was the last man standing. Each of them was going to Vietnam except Private Moore. The agitated sergeant said, “Okay, so guess where Surfer Joe is going. Hawaii!” Turned out Scott had the best drawing and was heading to Honolulu to be a military artist. There was a brief pause and Scott thought to himself, “Holy crap.” But the sergeant wasn’t finished. “Guess what happens when you go to Hawaii?” he asked. “Everyone who marches down to get on the bus, if you want to punch Private Moore in the arm… go ahead.” “I stood there,” Scott says, “most of the guys in my platoon left me alone, but the guys in the other platoons that we fought against for twelve weeks would just haul off and punch me as hard as they could in the arm. I’d fly against the bus, fall down, stand up and take another one. I’d switch arms after awhile.” The swelling was so bad, the military made him work in a refrigerator room in a frozen locker with an Eskimo outfit on until the swelling went down. It beat the alternative.

Things were a little different in Hawaii. His job was to decorate the Hawaiian Hilton for the Marine Corps Ball. For two years, he built props and designed backdrops. For a South Vietnam general’s birthday he made a cake topper with a mongoose dressed like a Vietnamese soldier that, with the switch of a lever, got pummeled by a Pacific Fleet shield. Scott made ads and signs. He even drew family photos for gruff military men on their wedding anniversaries. Moore says, “They’d pay me with cases of whiskey. I’d trade that for gas for my motorcycle and go surfing in Waikiki.

After completing his artistic service to his country, Scott got a job at a furniture place, then as a graphic designer for a printing company, and finally as a staff artist at Saddleback Junior College where he designed logos and graphics for the school. A short time later, the school asked him to teach watercolor classes. “I could paint, but I didn’t know how to tell anyone how to do it,” Moore says. That all changed when he read a book by his mentor, New York watercolorist, John Pike. He enrolled in one of Pike’s workshops in Woodstock and learned how to articulate the art of painting. Everything just clicked. “I felt like screaming during the course, Scott says, “I was learning so much. I left there with so much confidence.” Soon wannabe artists flocked to Moore’s classes at the junior college. His dad was one of the many that pulled up an easel. All the while, Scott was churning out his own work. Through 1985, he finished 50 watercolors a year. Back then his style was representational, everyday life paintings – an oyster bar, a docked boat, men baiting their lines for a morning out at sea.

Art shows are kinda like fishing. The artist sits there forever and no one buys anything. At the end of the weekend, everyone knows who sold and who didn’t. Most sell enough to at least break even, some leave with a few hundreds in their pocket, and then there’s Scott Moore. For his first show in Laguna Beach, he hauled all fifty pieces he’d done that year to the grounds and sold them all in less than a week. It’s a summer long gig, so Moore spent most of his time painting at home. Each Friday, he’d bring in a new piece, but often times he’d never even get to hang it. “One time I walked in and a couple people would follow me to my booth,” Scott says. “A man with a real long beard looking real tough was there with his wife. He said, ‘That’s it. That’s the one. It was of the Dory Fleet in Balboa. We’d like to buy this painting.’ I said, ‘Great. How do you want to do it?’ He said, ‘We’re driving a Volkswagen bug out front. We’re going to go sell it to a guy and we’ll bring you the cash right back.’ It was their only mode of transportation. They go and they sell it. They call Art-a-Fair and get a hold of me. They said they had no way of coming down to get the painting. He’s only got a motorcycle now. So, I delivered it to their house in Garden Grove and hung it for them. It was a proud moment in their life and they’d hawked a car for it. It just blew me away.”

Then there’s the Texas oil tycoon who bought 52 Scott Moore originals and financed the building of his studio. It’s those kinds of connections that have kept Scott loyal to Laguna Beach. Summer is one big art jamboree along the main drag into town. Anchored by the Pageant of the Masters… the Festival of the Arts, Art-a-Fair and the Sawdust Festival get major amounts of foot traffic from buyers each year. Scott has exhibited in all of three and has been blessed to sell every painting he’s ever made. “They’re great venues for artists to show without using a gallery and building your own clientele,” Moore says.

The biggest of the events is the Festival of Arts. Because of his high jury score, Scott earned a more prestigious spot on the grounds there in the mid-90’s. Unfortunately, the move came along with a loss of the shade. The sweltering SoCal sun made him and his watercolors sweat too much, and that’s when he made the transition to oil. The shift to surrealism came shortly thereafter. As production slowed, the detail and value of his art skyrocketed. This summer marks his 29th year of showing at Laguna Beach’s various venues. Because of the diversity of each event, Moore is able to showcase his oils at one and his watercolors at another. Moore took his appreciation for the area to the next level in 2000 when there was talk of moving the Pageant of the Masters to San Clemente. He became president of the event for two years and helped drive the politics right out of town.

The view from the back deck of Moore’s studio is a postcard of prosperity – multi-million dollar homes set high in the serene hills of Laguna Beach. The sun is in harmony with the sweet smell carried in by the sea breeze. But down the street a little, the scene is dramatic for other reasons – a sad reminder that paradise can be both tranquil and tragic. A landslide took out twenty homes on Bluebird Canyon and buried so many dreams under thousands of tons of dirt. The cleanup still continues five years later.

If nothing else, the speed and volatility of life should teach us a lesson in slowing down. Moore’s signature surreal style evolved out of his own quest for a return to innocence. While watching his children, Brady and Haley, grow up, he was reminded about how amazing the simple things in life can be: the taste of an ice cream cone, the sound of old-time rock n’ roll and how an object can keep a kid occupied for hours. Scott’s paintings are designed to keep those things sacred – something he thinks about often as he drives down the hill to go surfing.

www.scottmooreart.com
Written by: Ben Bamsey

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