In Europe, over the centuries, some subjects of Mediterranean-related narrative painters have been canonized. In Tiverton, subjects of a certain Mediterranean-related narrative painter have been Carolized. To be Carolized, is to be rendered in the in-your-face, highly-energized, portraiture style that marks Carol Scavotto’s distinctive “narrative” paintings. Scavotto works in her extra bedroom studio in Tiverton. She paints series of paintings that encapsulate people and personalities, usually unfolding or evolving. Figures are oversized, comic-esque, almost burlesque, usually pressed against the fourth wall, hatching from eggs or moving in unusual ways to tell a story that evokes immediate and varied viewer reaction.
Carol grew up in Springfield, Mass., and followed in the artistic footsteps of her talented grandparents. She helped her grandfather as he assembled his architectural and building creations; she made paper dolls and “outfitted them with the latest fashions” with her grandmother. As a child, she was fascinated by a coloring book featuring “Quick Draw McGraw,” a bumbling, Hanna-Barbara cartoon, New Mexico marshal who happened to be a horse. She spent hours copying McGraw and his friends, drawing new scenarios for them to inhabit in her present life.
Scavotto attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst majoring in sculpture and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She founded Springfield Art Center in Mass. and the Cabot House Art Gallery in RI.
It has been a big jump, to say the least, going from a cartoon horse to art that prompts emotional reactions, both good and bad, the full impact of which is felt when her highly-charged, unbalanced characters are seen from a step back; when her series of curiously-related narrative paintings are assembled in a group.
Carolized paintings seem to burst from their restricted constraints of canvas. “My work has always been focused on people and personalities. It was the facial expressions I was fascinated with in comic books. The fascination of human gesture has remained with me throughout my artistic career,” says Carol. “The simplicity of line to create a gesture is what I have been most influenced by in comic books.” She says that painted street art is the closest relation to her comic book influences. Although she works on white spaces, they cannot surround her. “Many artists like to have white walls as their back drop. As you can see, I like a lot of color. I do not have a white wall in my home. The walls in my studio are a golden yellow,” she adds. “I also work in the basement/garage to do framing and any assemblage that needs a bigger space. In this area I have a gallery space, plus a great deal of storage. I can even have a drive-by art show just by opening the garage door!”
She works like this: Carol gets an idea for a single painting, but the idea is never completed on just one canvas. “Sometimes,” she says, “it takes two, sometimes 30. All series-paintings begin, for me, with what I call sideways thinking. My goal is a narrative in the paintings without words.” She says. “Yet, my narrative of a work need not be what the viewer takes away from viewing the piece. I am always questioning, so I would wish to raise personal questions for the viewer.”
While praise translates into commissioned work for bistros, galleries and the like, emotional reactions to her work run the gamut. She recalled one person who looked at what she had hung on the wall and bleated, “What was she thinking?” She is onto a new series called Personalities. “Because of my unique style of portraying someone, the phrase, ‘You have been Carolized, has been kicking around. I kind of like it,” she says of the comic portraiture. “I welcome people who are fans of my style to come forward to give me the pleasure of doing a commissioned portrait of them.”