“COBALT IN A BLUE BOWL,” BY CHRIS SCAVOTTO. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.
Chris Scavotto was 17 when she discovered neo-expressionist artist Edward Boccia, on stage at the Saint Louis Art Museum. He stood in front of a large, blank canvas, between a Georges Braque Cubist painting and a Bernardo Strozzi Baroque painting, both from the museum’s collection. He took the Strozzi subject matter and painted it in the Cubist style of Bracque.
“He painted very dramatically, with bold strokes,” she remembers. “It was a performance. He wanted to show the structure of the painting, how it was made, how it was composed, how all the pieces of the artist’s puzzle interacted.”
Edward Boccia was an artist and poet who also taught in the School of Fine Arts at Washington University. Scavotto’s early encounter with him led her to study art at Washington University. Boccia became a teacher and a mentor, and eventually a friend. In later years, Scavotto joined a group of other artists who drew with him in his studio, sharing the cost of a model and enjoying the colorful stories he told about his life, including his involvement in the Ghost Army during World War II.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS SCAVOTTO
A growing interest in photography led Scavotto to contact Boccia’s daughter Alice, about six years after his death. Alice gave her permission to photograph his studio, which at the time was exactly as he had left it. She found the paints, brushes, drawing utensils, and the canvases to be evocative. Out of those sessions came a portfolio of photographs the Sheldon Galleries have curated into an exhibit titled The Painter’s Language, which opens October 7.
“Chris wanted to bring attention to Boccia’s work,” says Sheldon gallery manager Paula Lincoln. “But her work stood out on its own. It’s a unique approach, very beautiful.”
In Boccia’s studio, Scavotto composed photos of his paints, brushes, and drawings. In one photo, “Cobalt in a Clay Bowl,” she juxtaposed the brilliant blue of the painter’s rolled up paint tube with the earth tones of the paint-spattered clay bowl in which it lies. In another, “Orison and Self-Portrait,” the artist’s sketchbook lies open in front of a shadowy, cubist-styled self-portrait, and Boccia seems to be looking down on his own work.
“Because of my experiences with him and in that studio, this was a very meaningful project for me on many levels,” Scavotto says. “The objects themselves are beautiful – his paintings, his brushes, but the drawings most of all. All of that was there, and I wanted to compose and improvise with the things I found.”
The Painter’s Language runs October 7 through January 21, 2023, at the Sheldon Galleries.