Scott Rench (aka: Yosoh) has the kind of story we like to read about. An accidental designer and an unconventional artist, Scott fell into his current jobs in advertising and ceramics by chance, when a friend introduced him to a little program called Photoshop. Now, over 15 years later, Scott splits his time between developing effective ad campaigns for clients like Sony, creating shirts (and sinks!) for companies like Threadless (whom you no doubt remember from a recent SpearTalks), and accompanying his art to places like Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Lord knows it’s hard enough to do one thing well, so the fact that Scott has experienced so much success within all of his occupations — particularly after adding fate into the equation — is no small feat. Here, Mr. Rench discusses his past, his present, and how it was that the one led so favorably to the other.
JoshSpear.com: Before you met Larry Geiger, where was your life headed?
Scott Rench: That’s really hard to say, but my guess is a very different path. In graduate school I really struggled with whether to focus my creative efforts on painting or ceramics. I found painting to be easier but thought if I needed to pay rent it would be a whole lot easier to sell coffee cups then $800 paintings. Sometimes the easier road is not necessarily the better one. I suspect I probably would have gone back to my painting roots. I have always been an image maker and the idea of making brown pots has never really appealed to me.
JS: Walk us through the time-line of your life, post-Larry Geiger and up to today…
SR: Well, as I mention on my site, I met Larry in 1992, and he opened my eyes to the computer as a creative tool. I was blown away by what Photoshop could do. I could never get on the computers at school cause the Mac lab was rather small and design students were always waiting for a computer. When I did manage to get a computer I could feel the eyes burning a hole through the back of my head. It was not until one Christmas break that I had uninterrupted access to the Mac. The chair of the department gave me and my friend the key to the building. So we spent about 15 hours a day there, sometimes in coats and gloves with no heat. We did this daily for 2-3 weeks. During this time I taught myself Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark, and to this day 90% of what I know is from from that holiday break. I initially used the computer to steal images from books and clone out bits. It progressed into me designing my work entirely on the computer and transferring those images to clay.
By the time I received my MFA I had design students continually asking me, “how did you do this?” or “how did you do that?” Faced with a GIANT student loan and the understanding that an MFA does not mean much to many in the real world, I decided to see if I could get a job using my new found computer skills.
My initial interviews did not go well. I was told by many that I was a fine artist and maybe I should consider the fair circuit. I did not let that discourage me. I didn’t have any money so I spent my days riding my bike, averaging at one point over 80 miles a day. I sent out about 20 resumes a week.
My first really big break was International Jensen. I got to do almost anything I wanted, I couldn’t believe I was getting payed to play on the computer. On one occasion I could not sleep so I went to work at 4am and broke in using a butter knife. People at work thought this was very strange and they had the locks fixed. The next time I couldn’t sleep I found the damn doors impenetrable.
Creativity is the common thread between artists and ad creatives. Some ad work is influenced or stolen from artists. Look at the Sony Bravia bunny spot.
JS: Which came first; ceramics or ad work?
SR: Art has been with me my whole life. If you look at all my childhood report cards they say two things: Scott has trouble paying attention in class (I guess I was REALLY disruptive and very imaginative), and Scott excels in art. At the encouragement of one of my teachers my parents enrolled me in an art program.
JS: You’re a pretty active participant in design competitions (Mountain Dew, UniPo, Threadless…). What do you enjoy most/least about this kind of work?
SR: I do these because, one; I enjoy them; and two; you have to make opportunities for yourself. If you sit by and wait for things to happen you may be sitting a long time. Today an artist has to wear a lot of hats. I have doubled my site traffic in a year all by being a PR whore. I take my photos, I try to fix my photo mistakes, update my site and so on. You have to be a one man band.
JS: If you were offered the chance to ditch out on advertising and focus solely on ceramics, would you take it?
SR: I like both for different reasons. It depends on the level of work. I find advertising can be very fulfilling creatively. I have been presenting “crazy work” for years and it often gets killed internally or finally at the hands of the client. More often than not the ad work I have done has increased sales — which is the goal of any creative. It’s crazy with careful thought behind it.
JS: Your ceramics represent an interesting mix of past (ceramics) and present (computer arts). What led you, initially, to mix the two?
SR: I strove for realism in my artwork. I started out airbrushing my imagery but, being self-taught, I was never really satisfied. A friend of mine who owned a printing business walked in one day with a torn section of silk screen with an image on it. I saw it and immediately thought, wow, I could airbrush through this like a stencil. I created a few pieces and found that the fabric would often flutter resulting in ghost images. I thought about the process and wondered if I was going about this the right way. Why not print the image with ceramic glaze? This was almost 15 years ago — there were no books, no people to ask. At this point, I thought I was the only one doing this. It was around this time that a curator in the UK was putting together a show of people exploring ceramics and print. They saw my work in a magazine ad and invited me to join. This show was part contemporary and part historical. It included works by Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, and Cindy Sherman to name a few.
JS: In a way, it seems very fitting that your ceramic designs reflect elements of the computers you use to make them. Reflecting and recording elements of a society has always been a characteristic of ceramic art, and since computers are so irreplaceable today, your work truly does that. However, have you experienced any sort of backlash for your somewhat non-traditional approach?
SR: I have always felt like an outsider. Galleries tend to represent work in one medium. My work is part clay, part print, and part sculptural- which does not fit neatly into a category. I have been told my work is too commercial and by others not commercial enough. During graduate school I felt more akin to my fellow painters than potters. In the clay world, everything is all about the form, and so much of what I do is called decoration. I don’t want to be seen as a ceramic artist, but rather as an artist. With that being said, I have tried to branch out in as many areas as possible.
JS: Are there any overarching themes you try to communicate in your art?
SR: My work has become increasingly narrative as I draw from my personal life for content. Since my work is so personal I usually layer the content in semiotics. Some of it sits on the surface and other parts are very cryptic. Generally speaking I like to make work around themes that are common to all of us. We each bring something different to an experience, so I really enjoy hearing what the work means to others. Hearing others I sometimes see things about myself I never saw before.
JS: What is different about your work today as opposed to when you first started? Any new design elements or characteristics?
SR: Well, I don’t steal things from books like I used to. I had Ted Turner’s lawyers all over me early on. They put the fear of God into me for using one of their images.
JS: What will we see from you next?
SR: You can see my work at an exhibit at Art Basel (Miami Beach). I will be part of an exhibit called FRAGILE which is being curated by the publisher Die Gestalten. I made a sink for the Threadless store in Chicago, so if you are in the neighborhood stop by. Things to come: Late this year I have a figure coming out through UNKL as part of the FAN SERIES. In the next two weeks I have a 10 color Threadless Select shirt dropping. I am getting ready to hit Chicago with a large amount of “street art” I have been working on. It sounds weird, but the street stuff has made me reconnect with why I started making art in the first place. As a test I put one piece out which lasted 5 days. Someone must have wanted it badly as they needed bolt cutters to steal it.