Scott Rhea - Conversations with Artists
What is the art of what you do?
I put things into visual metaphors. About 8 years ago I embarked on a personal journey of discovering what to do about it. In my previous life, I was a fashion photographer. Shooting fashion is so much about what’s cool, what’s accepted, and hedging the shelf-life of something. My work was structured and I couldn't get to the free state I was seeking. I was constantly comparing myself to other people and was very critical of my own work. I began doing work without expectation of anyone liking it, and that's when things opened up. Sitting down and journaling ideas led to my getting to a much deeper place. I became aware of my habit of trashing every idea and being harsh with myself, killing my own creativity. This realization changed my perspective. In my journals I'd circle the ideas I wanted to develop, and let the other ones be, but not judge them. Being mindful of my mental state enabled great ideas to start flourishing.
What was the catalyst that got you there?
Part of it was survival. I had gone through a rough economic time, so it was like a pacifier. For me, exploring creative ideas is euphoric. It used to be about the execution of something, but I realize now I've got all the technical skills I need -- I simply must focus on ideas. That’s the last frontier in the creative world -- great ideas. Whether I’m doing my own personal art or working for a client, my focus is mining and harvesting good ideas.
What makes a good idea?
That's completely subjective. You’ll see a car driving down the street that looks ridiculous but it was somebody’s idea. In my case, I quit worrying about other people's needs and just started creating work that made me happy and that I was proud of. Then people came to that idea - which is a whole different dynamic. I work from the inside out. I won't shoot anything trying to appease someone. I'm going to do what I do. That's why I direct music videos now. Clients give me a track and there's never anything creative in the briefing. They look for me to be inspired and create something beautiful from the track. It’s perfect for me because being a former musician, I connect and am inspired by music. I have a process where I'll listen to the track really intensely and if nothing shows up I'll play it in the background for days. My subconscious grabs it and will start developing visuals to it.
When do visuals come to you?
I can be driving, I can be asleep. I can be in the middle of a conversation and sometimes they'll just show up. When it happens it's like a flood gate. I'll have to run and grab a notebook. Sometimes, in the music video genre I'll see the whole video all at once. The idea shows up, I see the story, I see how it ends, then I'll go back and fill in the spaces.
Talk about the visual metaphors.
In my underwater work I didn't even know it was happening. I began realizing what things meant after the fact. There's an underwater image of mine with a little girl on a ladder. She's wearing a flowing dress and is reaching for a chalkboard from which letters are falling. At the time we had just learned that my oldest daughter was dyslexic. She was almost three years behind at school. I was also going through a really big struggle transitioning away from fashion. So I entitled that image “Lessons” because it was me embracing my own life's lessons as well as my daughter’s struggles. Dyslexia causes letters to move and shift and disappear. When I created that image the letters were moving all over the place but I didn’t really know why. I went back and looked at it later -- it was almost like decoding a dream.
How does dreaming affect your art work?
It's everything. Nothing I do now comes from my conscious mind, and it's not always a dream state. I always do very deep meditation when I'm working on a project. Ideas will show up in my conscious mind but they always come from my subconscious. Sometimes they come while I'm in the dream or meditation, but a lot of times they'll come after. The harder I try to mine a good idea with my conscious mind, the more elusive it becomes. I know that getting quiet and going inside is where I find my ideas. There are people that produce completely from their conscious mind. But my mind is too busy. That's where the technical part comes in -- my technical mind needs that speed and consciousness, but it’s a detriment to my creativity.
Do you always visualize the entire project before you can start?
Not always. In fact, sometimes I'll see the ending and I don't know what the story is. It’s very random. There's no pattern to it.
You’re doing some big projects, how do you get that past the suits?
It usually doesn't get to the point where they know I'm struggling. In the music video world, it's a little frustrating in that often the turnaround is super fast. They'll give me a track and want a treatment in two days. My treatments are really well fleshed out; they’re big powerpoint presentations with tons of accompaniments and usually are anywhere from 28 - 50 slides. The physical part of putting a presentation together is a big deal, so you've got to have your idea pretty fast. Occasionally it happens that I don't have my idea and it's due that afternoon - so I’ll start putting the presentation together and sometimes the blanks will start to fill in. Sometimes I have to put it all away and go meditate for an hour and then the idea shows up.
How do you feed your creative side?
It starts with staying healthy. The happier you are the more creativity flows, but some of the best work I've done has been when I was under pressure. When I’m really stressed and I have a down moment sometimes those stresses manifest in a visual metaphor. Sometimes all my emotions will end up in a visual form and sometimes they're usable and sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're ridiculously crazy, but they all show up as a picture.
How is your work evolving?
I really like surreal, mysterious images that make you question what's happening; images that make you feel something. The same sensibility that brought the underwater work to the fore will bring other things. I like putting myself up against the wall and then having to pull it off. Underwater work takes such a big effort. The minimal crew I work with is usually 60-70 people. There were over 100 on the last shoot that I did. It’s a bit of a dangerous position to be in because if you don't pull it off you're screwed. Usually, I do. I map it off and have schematics and lighting diagrams. I like getting into it and having that struggle.
How much of your personal life goes into your films?
A good bit. When you go through a big traumatic experience in your life, it's bound to show up somewhere. I feel a big body of work is coming. It hasn't taken shape yet, the trauma is not far enough in the rearview mirror. Once I've had time to process my emotions, the pictures will start showing up. I have a feeling it's going to be a collection of still work. I think the title is going to be ‘Shattered’ and it's going to deal with a lot of things being broken. I'm already starting to see images.
Are you still shattered?
The super glue is starting to work. Everybody has cracks in one way or another. You learn from it and you move on. The trick is not to stay shattered, to go forward and put yourself back together as best you can.
If you could speak with 10-year-old you, what advice would you give him?
The first is that it's all a process and you're not going to avoid it, so enjoy it. Don't get too focused on the destination. Really look daily at the journey and try to have as much fun as you can. I used to live so far in the future. I remember the moment I realized it. My wife and I were in an incredible villa in Italy and I was standing on the balcony talking about something that was going to happen six months later. I realized how out of touch I was with 'now.' That realization was devastatingly harsh. Everything seemed as if it would be better in the future. That awareness helped me to start changing. It took a long time and I'm still working on it. Be in touch with now and be ok with now - because it's really all you have. Tomorrow is just a dream. Yesterday is gone. I think that would be the advice. Embrace 'now' a lot more.
What led you on the voyage to now?
I'm still working that out. But I think that I had a struggle with the disappointment of expectations vs. reality. You need goals and to continue to move forward, but there's a point where you stop enjoying the present. In 2008 I was half-an-inch from being retired from good investments I had made, when the market blew up and I lost everything. That was a huge moment in my life. Being able to do what I wanted for the rest of my life was suddenly yanked away. I realized that no matter how hard I tried I couldn't change the situation. And I wouldn't have done anything different anyway. So just I’m learning to not be attached to the outcome of things.
What does the future look like for you?
The future is going to be a lot more peaceful, healthier and a lot more creative. I want to keep setting the bar higher and higher - to do work that's groundbreaking and different. I'm not very good at being complacent. I'm not good at mediocre. I have a voracious appetite for change; in music, in everything. I definitely want less stress, more happiness, more travel, more creativity. More good wine.