Artist Scott Armetta paints eerie but gorgeous subtropical landscapes.
Artist Scott Armetta at his studio in South Florida’s Palm Springs.
Forget about gently swaying palm trees or sun-dappled waves rolling onto a sandy beach. Scott Armetta’s sumptuous landscape paintings certainly evoke an unspoiled South Florida, but it’s a vision of Sunshine State wilderness that rarely finds its way onto tourist postcards. “That was part of the challenge,” the West Palm Beach-based Armetta explains. “To take a landscape so imbued with clichés and still try to capture what I love about living here.” The goal, he continues, is to avoid “just regurgitating old experiences, but to add something new in the process. It’s important to recognize the mortality of natural life.”
That dichotomy between life and death within nature practically sings out from the best of Armetta’s paintings, such as his Sunrise Event, where a mist-enshrouded shoreline seems disturbingly peaceful, as if the dawn’s surf was slowly reclaiming post-apocalyptic terrain from a now-vanished civilization. Dead Alligator Found in Lake Okeechobee Shore makes that cyclical relationship more overt, with the deceased gator in question both viscerally striking and mournfully evocative; its carcass lies splayed out on an otherwise barren swath of swamp, alone except for a few tufts of grass and an odd blue light beckoning in the distance.
Armetta holding his brushes. “I try to amplify the mystery of whatever I find intriguing,” he says.
Armetta’s paintings are even more impressive when viewed against the post-Art Basel backdrop of South Florida. It’s not simply that his eyebrow-raising technical skills are increasingly rare in local circles—skill itself has become suspect in many curatorial corners. And few styles arouse more theoretical suspicion than a finely crafted landscape. Call it the New Earnestness—an approach Armetta fully embraces. “You have to be careful so it doesn’t become corny,” he concedes.
But that hasn’t stopped him from using vintage frames—many of which are broken or barely hanging together—to further accentuate an air of visual decay. “I’m not doing this to be kitschy,” he explains. “I try to amplify the mystery of whatever I find intriguing about a setting.”
However, this isn’t the attitude he began with. Upon his 1998 graduation from Boca Raton’s Florida Atlantic University, Armetta joined the then-usual exodus of local artists relocating to New York City. “I wasn’t there long enough to get jaded,” he recalls with a laugh of his 12 months up north.
Armetta’s Sunrise Event (2012) suggests the surf reclaiming a postapocalyptic landscape.
Armetta enjoyed the city’s cultural offerings, as well as the studio space he shared with fellow painter and FAU graduate Aramis Gutierrez (whose Guccivuitton gallery in Little Haiti is currently exhibiting Armetta’s work). Yet Armetta noticed his own paintings—then focused on abstraction—were stylistically akin to what he was seeing at studios and galleries throughout the city. “A lot of what was happening in New York were variations on Gerhard Richter’s ‘squeegee’ paintings,” he remembers. And while Armetta may be a fan of Richter’s abstractionist handiwork, he hardly felt the need to try and improve on it. “Sometimes being in the middle of what’s happening makes you susceptible to trends...It’s too tempting to become a follower,” he cautions.
After being accepted to graduate school at Manhattan’s Hunter College, he returned to West Palm Beach. The plan was to stay for a year and sock away some money for his MFA. Instead, he found himself wandering around Palm Beach County’s less-traveled edges, becoming enraptured with vistas his teenage self had taken for granted. “When I was walking around here, I hadn’t yet seen in other people’s paintings what I wanted to bring out.”
An artist’s residency at West Palm Beach’s Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts—the magnet high school where Armetta had been part of the initial 1994 graduating class—further delayed grad school and eventually became a full-time teaching gig, one he’s remained happily ensconced in for over a decade. “I always think, How would I have wanted to discuss a subject?”
Yet as much as he enjoys teaching, he’s even more grateful for the financial security it provides. “Part of having a job I really like is that I can just make work that I want to look at myself,” Armetta offers. “That’s not to say I don’t want to communicate with a contemporary audience, I do! But what may seem ‘hot’ to other artists is honestly on the very, very low end of the list of things I concern myself with.” “10a/10b,” a solo exhibition of Scott Armetta’s artwork, is on view through November 1 at Guccivuitton, 8375 NE Second Ave., Miami