Artist Profile: Sunlight and Steel
by Katherine Pioli
The green art of Scott Whitaker
Who knows how long Scotty Whitaker has projected his current persona-young, anti-establishment, playful, curious. We are kicking around his west side studio, looking at tractor grills and giant seahorses. Whitaker, tall and handsome, moves through his space in faded jeans and multi-colored knit cap looking 10 years younger than his actual age.
Who knows how long Scotty Whitaker has projected his current persona-young, anti-establishment, playful, curious. We are kicking around his west side studio, looking at tractor grills and giant seahorses. Whitaker, tall and handsome, moves through his space in faded jeans and multi-colored knit cap looking 10 years younger than his actual age. Hours later, after conversing about his life and art, I still can’t find a concise way to describe the man.
Digging through the layers of Scotty’s life reveals seemingly starkly different people. Only two and a half years ago he worked as a computer programmer in Silicon Valley, professionally hacking into companies’ systems, helping them correct weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Fifteen years before that he was a college student pursuing a fine arts degree with the help of a painting scholarship. Before that he was a priest in the LDS church, serving his two-year mission in Amsterdam. Before reforming for his mission, Scotty smoked with friends under the rides at Lagoon in his hometown of Farmington.
“There is your little block and your ward and the pecking order starts in kindergarten,” Scotty recalls of his childhood, sitting on the floor of his workshop. I am relaxed in a piece of art, a dentist chair outfitted with a pair of kaleidoscope glasses that allows one to “see a different reality,” as Scotty puts it. “You were set and you had your space,” he continues. “If you tried to break out of that space and be something different they would say, ‘yeah, you can’t fool us, we know exactly what you are and where you go.'”
But try as he might, Scott Whitaker never quite fit the mold provided by his childhood community. Today his ‘family’ is an amalgamation of blood relatives, close friends, artists and even a professor of the science of sleep at Stanford University. The diversity of the company he keeps attests to his openness to the world and people around him. It is an openness often reflected in and encouraged through his art. Like the altered dentist chair, and a strange alien-like helmet with which the wearer can look upon the world through blue, orange and multi-celled lenses, Whitaker’s art encourages an open mind.
“The heart of what I am doing,” says Whitaker, contemplating his own work, “is reusing stuff that people throw away and showing them that it is beautiful and useful.” The usefulness of discarded objects is a green philosophy that extends not only to Whitaker’s art, I soon learned, but also to his numerous other projects, businesses and engagements.
As predictably unpredictable as this artist can be, Whitaker a few years back picked up some light reading while vacationing in Guatemala. His book: a solar energy field manual explaining the basics of the trade. Then, in November of 2006, Whitaker created Sol Systems, an alternative energy design and consulting firm. “Matt Murry the electrician does the technical stuff and I cover the business side of talking with people.”
This summer Sol Systems installed an 8-kilowatt rooftop solar system for HawkWatch International. Not only did they install the system, they also helped the nonprofit group apply for various grants, which covered nearly 50% of the cost.
Returning to his art, Whitaker proudly calls the solar saucer-his most publicly visible piece-the perfect union of his art, solar work and his green philosophy. As art, the saucer is an impressive piece made from recycled metal, lights and knick-knacks all constructed over a boat trailer making it easily transportable. As green art, the six solar panels radiating out from the center turn the saucer into a functional DJ booth and power generator. “In the summer of 2008,” Whitaker recalls, “I drove the saucer over 15,000 miles from Salt Lake to Denver, Austin and Santa Barbara.” Crash-landing at events like Salt Lake’s Earth Jam, the Live Green Festival and neighborhood Obama inauguration parties, Whitaker uses this piece especially to inform, educate and give a healthy boost to any gathering.
Walking into the back bay of Whitaker’s art space at the end of my tour, I catch myself from tripping over a giant scrapmetal fish only to stumble upon couches and light fixtures. At this point Whitaker introduces me to his “building materials thrift store,” the ReStore. “Say someone remodels a kitchen, and they pull out a perfectly good sink and cabinets just because they want a new design. Now they can bring those to the ReStore and someone else can buy and use them.
“It all ties back into my art,” says Whitaker. “Everything I do is trying to improve the place we live in, make it cleaner, find the beauty in things.” I nod to myself, realizing that it ties into much more. Sol Systems, the ReStore, the saucer, are all elements of a person who never stops reinventing who he is and what he will do next.
Exhibit: “Urban Artifacts”
Through March 6, 2009
High Life Gallery (in High Life Hair Salon), 245 E Broadway.
Sol Systems: tel. 510-5951
Scott Whitaker’s art and ReStore items found at www.burdepot.com