John T. Scott, New Orleans Sculptor, Dies at 67
By Holland Cotter, THE NEW YORK TIMES
John T. Scott, a New Orleans sculptor whose vibrantly colored kinetic art filtered the spirit of the African diaspora through a modernist lens, died on Saturday in Houston. He was 67 and had fled his home city just before Hurricane Katrina hit two years ago.
His death was confirmed by Ron Bechet, an artist and professor at Xavier University in New Orleans, where Mr. Scott had taught for 40 years. Mr. Bechet added that Mr. Scott had been chronically ill with pulmonary fibrosis and was recovering from a double lung transplant.
John T. Scott was born on a farm in the Gentilly section of New Orleans and raised in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward. He said that his art training began at home, when he learned embroidery from his mother; his father was a chauffeur and restaurant cook. He attended Xavier, a Roman Catholic and historically black college, and then Michigan State University, where he studied with the painter Charles Pollock, Jackson Pollock’s brother. After completing his master of fine arts degree in 1965, he returned to Xavier to teach.
Mr. Scott’s earliest work drew on Christian religious imagery and classical mythology. But by the late 1960s, his sculpture and prints focused on African, African-American, Caribbean and Southern Creole cultures, reflecting their fusion in New Orleans itself. His assemblage style and welding technique were influenced by the playful but subtly structured dynamics of jazz as well as by dance. From the 1980s onward, with encouragement from the sculptor George Rickey, his half-abstract, boldly painted sculptures in metal and wood included kinetic components.
His “Diddlie Bow Series” (1983-84) was based on the attenuated shape of an African stringed instrument. His environmentally conceived “Circle Dance Series” (2001), inspired by African dances that were transformed into slaves’ courting rituals and that survive in New Orleans funeral processions, was described by the art historian Richard J. Powell as “a kind of stylized stageset/dreamworld.”
His work in the 1990s, particularly his prints, took an increasingly dark view of urban excess and violence.
In 1992, Mr. Scott was awarded a “genius” grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and he used the money to build a larger studio. He produced several monumental site-specific sculptures for the city, among them “Spiritgate” (1994) for the entrance court to the New Orleans Museum of Art. In 2005, the museum mounted a career retrospective, “Circle Dance: The Art of John T. Scott.” He was represented by the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans and by Harris Brown Gallery in Boston.
After fleeing New Orleans, he stayed in Houston to await a bilateral lung transplant. He underwent surgery twice in April and remained in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility.
Both his home and studio in New Orleans suffered storm damage, and the studio was broken into three times. Much of his sculpture-making equipment was taken, as were metal sculptures, possibly to be broken and sold for scrap.
Mr. Scott is survived by his wife, Anna Rita Scott; a son, Ayo, of New Orleans; four daughters, Maria Scott-Osborne of Boston and Tyra Joseph, Lauren Kannady and Alanda Rhodes, all of Houston; and six granddaughters.
In June, having regained some energy, Mr. Scott spoke with Doug MacCash of The New Orleans Times-Picayune. Asked whether he intended to return to the city after recovering from surgery, he said: “That’s the only home I know. I want my bones to be buried there. I belong there. I need New Orleans more than New Orleans needs me.”