Here at New Collection, we decided to try something new! We interviewed astronaut enthusiast and fashion powerhouse Molly Scanell in an attempt to get a better sense of interstellar couture. Just kidding. She’s an artist. A collage artist. And a successful one at that.
Molly Scannell is the modern version of a “renaissance man.” First off, she’s a woman, and secondarily, she seems to enjoy (and be good at) just about everything she tries. The list so far involves painting, collaging, digital video and most recently, fabric. Working out of Boston, Mass., this artist and creative director has shown her work on gallery walls from New York, Venice and Osaka to humbler haunts like Des Moines, Cincinnati and the home of Walden Pond: Concord, Massachusetts. We at New Collection were able to catch the busy and ever-enthusiastic Scannell to chat about her artistic process and inspiration. Hint: it has to do with space.
Emily Owens: You use a myriad of techniques in order to accomplish your work. I noticed you employ photographic manipulation, illustration, watercolor, as well as more analog, or “traditional” processes of collage. Could you tell us a little bit about your diverse approach to these techniques?
Molly Scannell: This is a great question! My approach to collage, is essentially, to try anything. I think making art is an opportunity to explore the notion of wonder and magic. The majority of that exploration is bunk and full of failure, but sometimes there’s a gem in there! I also get closer to understanding other mediums and how to work with them. So it's a full education for me, at my pace, which is fantastic. And let's be real, if you’re not failing you’re never winning.
Within your work, there is a consistent theme of pattern overlay. What do these patterns seek to examine or identify within a piece? What is the role of obscuring the figure (and notably their faces,) behind or intertwined with these patterns? Is there a deliberate philosophical or emotional impact this is meant to achieve?
The Face. The Person. People love to know what the intentions are of the meaning behind the obscuring or peeking of the faces. I love faces. All the faces! They are so unique and beautiful. Faces tell us so much about our world, if you actually pay attention! Especially the eyes. I sometimes wonder if there were no eyes, would one still visualize or relate to the portrait as themself -- like a mirror?
Or if there is the slightest hint of an eye, does one maybe experience an interaction with another human or entity? I have no idea, but I'd love to monitor people's brainwaves to see how people respond to my art! I’m imagining art, data and science coming together.
I like combining faces with nature, such as botanicals and landscapes as well as modern architecture. (I love brutalist architecture.) These themes deepen the story and it’s projection. Time, the balance of life, color, and objects. The deliberation of my work is mostly composed of what I think is beautiful. I rarely consider how anyone is going to feel about my work. I started making art again because I needed to feel something and create something..., something beyond another digital experience for a Fortune 500 company. There was so much fear of crossing the wrong lines or borders of imagination. That world started to become lackluster and frankly, quite boring.
Additionally, in works such as Astrokid and Blue Astronaut, the repetition of the theme and similar pattern overlay or technique of manipulation creates for radically different visual results. Is there anything behind this idea of “difference and repetition” that you see influencing your work?
I do use a lot of similar patterns that are manipulated through extreme sizing, extractions and repetitions. Unless I am making something specific for a client, most of my work is an experiment of “what if I did this?” Instead of color, what about pieces of the actual image in this pattern at 150%? How does that feel? What if I stopped using faces, and used torn paper, could it feel the same? Does it feel good? What about typefaces?
The biggest influence for me in this experimentation is the never ending growth and variety of directions my work is taking. I am starting to make fabric! I am wildly excited about this. It's one step closer to the tulle ball gown (think of Dior.) I want to wear it grocery shopping. Because why the fuck not?
The whole journey for me has been pretty incredible:
Small collected paper collages in books → specific singular pieces → prints → large scale wallpapers→ faux flower capes→ paintings in my collage style→ large scale murals → digital videos of moving collage → fabric.
Next up: Fashion! I want to take my art to the fashion world, and deepen my sense of scale and volume, but mostly I want the experience of wearing it. I want people to feel like they are experiencing something - going somewhere. This is me channeling what I like to call my “inner Diana Vreeland.” Because she’s a bad ass visionary.
Collage often creates a “disconnect” or deterritorialization from its original context, but at other times can work to connect various events, times, and concepts into a cohesive whole, (or reterritorialization.) When you obscure and cut into these faces or bodies of text, what does this disruption serve? Often it appears you are taking one to two images and reconstructing them to create an entirely new context, so the simplicity of the involved materials creates for a jolting experience.
I like these words: Disruption & Reterritorialization. Our eyes are windows, and we see what we want to see, right? I first read “reterritorialization,” as “reterrorization.” Two completely different thoughts. Though maybe I am a terrorist of photography. Ha!
HOWEVER, this is some of what I feel like happens when I’m making art from multiple sources. Half the time I don't know what I’m doing while I’m working. I see colors & shapes and let my brain take over. Then I look at it from a distance when I’m done and go, “holy shit.” Whether I think the piece is beautiful or completely relevant to the times we live in, the feeling is the same.
Your sketchbooks appear like holy grails. It becomes very clear that this technique is something of a diaristic form for you, as the pages cannot be separated from one another and the works hung individually. Does each sketchbook comprise a “whole” and/or completed piece, or are these collections of completions bound and archived together?
Holy Grails! This is the kindest, highest compliment I have ever received! I love my sketchbooks so much, they are truly a personal process in so many ways. Years ago, I had a conversation with a creative friend that said, you should be doing every other page, in case you want to take out a spread. Ever since that moment I have begun on every other spread. I even spray painted the pages in-between so that it felt beautiful and “complete.” I usually went for hot pink or shiny metallics….because those colors are awesome!
So with the notion of a whole versus many, I think my answer would be different for each book. Chicken or the egg? Who knows! I dislike encountering the empty pages, it sometimes makes me bananas, but I know it’s necessary, so I keep moving. A body in motion stays in motion. Or actually, is it? I bet in fifteen to thirty years, I'll start doing something to those blank page, but for now, they are complete as they are, I suppose, since I keep making more.
Much of your work involves women and the occasional ultra-celebrity male such as Elvis or Prince. While some other male figures exist, the work does largely seem to center women. Is this a conscious creative choice on your part, or due to the interests of your clients within the culture of commercial fashion?
When using faces I am definitely more drawn to women. I’m not sure that I am consciously making that decision so much as that what I look at speaks to me in some way. In fact, I know I don’t hunt images of women. I’m usually looking for portraits. Though there are specific occasions that I will use women to help tell a story. For example, some recent murals I made in Chelsea, Massachusetts were representative of some of the great women that came out of Chelsea. Maybe people did not know about them, like Miriam Chamberlain. The lovely ladies of the murals are currently wrapping around a men's bathhouse. Levels of winning for me here.
I love fashion. LOVE. And the fashion that I am drawn too is obviously created for women; things I might like to have or wear. But mostly pieces that I am inspired by. I do like mens fashion too, they have some incredible lines and patterns. And I’ll take some menswear for myself, but in most cases I'll accessorize with heels and some door knockers. So, in the immortal words of Queen Latifah, “Ladies First.” ;)
While it appears that you are constantly making, as your Instagram cites, “just to make,” is there a shift in process for you, between making your personal creations and those that have been commissioned? And, additionally, have you found commercial work to have had an influence on your more personal pieces?
What a fantastic question. There is definitely a tension between making for myself and making for someone else. I started turning down certain jobs because I’ve found that people REALLY like my art, but when they can’t articulate what they want in the making process, it becomes rather cumbersome for both parties. Sometimes it can be resolved, sometimes not.
The jobs that I find the most success in are people and companies that love my art for what it is. Part of the success of the project lives in the creative brief they send along. (If unfamiliar with this document, it is essentially the backbone of the project, outlining the specifics required. The what, why & who.) On most occasions assets are provided, but mostly the notion of “run wild!” is what they want from me. I think of this as “go do magic!” Being upfront with articulation and communication does the heavy lifting for a smoother project. Perhaps an obvious sentiment, but hard to execute every now and then. ;)
I find that the parameters of the creative brief can often lead me to broader searches, tools & ideas. The artifacts that I find through these searches, definitely inform my creative thinking and application in everything I do thereafter. For example, I’m very attached to astronauts. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but I love the suits and the idea of space and how that plays into fashion. I’m even wearing a NASA fanny pack right now! And of course it looks awesome, even though it's filled with dog treats and I’m in my pajamas as I write this. I digress. If I head over to NASA on the internet and start looking for images, I might look up and see that four hours have passed, and all I have done is look at astronauts, planets and space. Which is great but a big “wormhole,” if you will. Hahaha! I approach my time very differently whether the work is for myself or an actual job. Deadlines versus none.
Your style is most certainly distinctive and recognizable, and thus, “on brand.” Do you often feel that you are given trusted “free reign” on commissioned works due to your reputation in the field? Or does a certain level of creative constriction still occur when you approach the work? There must be a level of symbiosis as you are sought after for your particular niche in the industry.
Yes, as I mentioned above, I find that I am mostly given free reign to do what I do. There are also scenarios in which I will be approached by someone wanting to buy the rights to a specific piece instead of my actually having to create something. That’s not my favorite because I like curating a piece specific to the brand. It's a challenge and actually quite fun. It strengthens me as an artist and ultimately allows the brand to receive something unique and authentic as well.