Visionary American Realist Painter Adam Scott Rote sat down with OUTCOAST to discuss his upbringing, Hollywood rise to fame, relationships, and latest exhibit at the Ocean Blue Galleries in St. Petersburg, titled Classic Sci-Fi Tribute Show Act 1#.
An adopted child of the 60’s, Rote grew up in Cleveland, Ohio with two loving parents, now married over 50 years.
“I have a great relationship with both of my parents. They’ve always been very supportive of both my art and sexuality.”
Rote discovered his love for art at a very young age. “As long as I can remember I’ve been sketching or drawing. I used to build sets. I used to make marionettes. I would make the furniture for the marionettes and my dad would help me build the stage. And then we designed light boxes. I was always into doing something.”
Rote apprenticed with artistic masters in the fields of portraiture, airbrush, realism, and sign painting well before the digital age. In the 70’s, he fell in love with murals on cars and vans. And he was always sci-fi and fantasy oriented.
It is easy to assume from the clean lines and brilliant colors of his work that his medium of choice is the computer, but it’s not.
“What’s funny is how different people look at you when they realize that your work isn’t digital,” said Rote. “I use airbrush, brushes, watercolor pencils, gouache, and erasure in unison. I’m now doing three dimensions, too. And sculpting!”
And his thoughts on computers? “I wouldn’t use computers, because there are too many others out there who do, and because of my style, people would say, ‘I knew it!’ So I leave the computers out of my work. I love the process of what I do. It’s old school.”
“The hardest part for me is not so much the construction or mediums used,” he continued. “It’s the imagination.”
According to Rote, Debbie Reynolds recognized his talent years ago and would say, “This is really good, of course you know that. But it’s not because of technique, because focusing solely on technique would make you a human Xerox machine. Rather, it’s your imagination! You are blessed with imagination!”
Around 2008, his out-of-the-box thinking and style landed him contracts with several celebrities, including Martin Landau, Ernest Borgnine, Al Pacino, Jerry Lewis, Burt Reynold, Angie Dickinson, Esther Williams, Kurt Russell, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, and George Lucas, just to name a few.
“My agent out in Hollywood saw my work,” shared Rote about his rise to fame in Hollywood. “I was always doing pop culture in blacks and whites, because the forms fascinated me. I appreciated Marilyn, James Dean, and Betty Davis. I was fascinated by Horell’s work. He was a photographer who did black and whites. They were gorgeous and stunning. I wanted to figure out a way to recreate those. Airbrushing was the best way to do it.”
Since then, Rote has created his own pop-culture style, blending photographic perspectives with artistic techniques made famous by Warhol and other pop-culture icons. Although his subject matter is always evolving, his appeal to celebrities has continued to grow.
“My agent sometimes reaches out to celebrities, or they reach out to my agent. The client and I will sit down and put ideas together.”
When asked about the history of airbrush illustration, Rote says, “You always get people who think it’s a computer, but if you were in Key West in the 70’s and 80’s, we were all over the streets airbrushing when computers didn’t exist.”
“We’ve always been there…the illustration guys who do what we do…we’ve always been there, but haven’t been appreciated. Art schools thought we were commercial since we weren’t focused on Impressionism and oils on canvas. Ironically, airbrushing was around first. Cavemen were using ink through straws,” Rote said as he blew through his right hand in a straw-like fashion, then smiled.
To better understand his love for sci-fi, we asked about Rote’s favorite movie. “It’s not Star Wars,” laughs Rote. “It’s a toss. I love Silent Running and 2001 Space Odessy. Today, my favorite movie is the Re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, because that was smart sci-fi. It’s all about making you think.”
While discussing modern sci-fi movies, current technology, and the digital age, Rote expressed concerns about the future of art. “We are literally losing the ability to show people how to do what we’re doing.”
As an example, he discussed his plaster lay work of The Old American Ruins series. “I started with these beautiful houses that used to be made from plaster lay. You would lay lath down and you’d plaster lay. But you go to home depot now and you can’t find anyone who knows how to plaster lay. We’re going to find that with art.”
Although he doesn’t teach classes, Rote is excited by his new apprentice and looks forward to watching him grow and develop his own techniques and skills. Rote doesn’t believe in pushing his techniques onto others in an attempt to pass on his legacy. Rather, he considers art a fluid thing.
“There are people who want to push things, like a legacy. I don’t want to do that,” emphasizes Rote.
He encourages young artists to stop worrying about leaving a legacy and rather enjoy the journey they’re on. “Enjoy that moment. That first show, whatever it is. Stop worrying about the next. Live right in that moment. Judy Garland would have said the same thing. Live in that moment, because you don’t get it back.”
Rote’s work is on display in twelve galleries throughout the world. He is selective about the galleries he works with and has turned down several large offers. He prefers to avoid the “cookie cutter” galleries that focus on the bottom line over talent and exprience.
“I’ve wrestled with big egos and galleries,” admits Rote. “You are judged so much about your last big box show, or how gallery worthy you are, or how much revenue you bring in. These often determine your placement and what you’re doing. I still do what I’m doing and do so successfully. I’ve fought the commercialism a lot.”
When former gallery executives Jay Shaffer, Bobby Gray, and Guy Vincent branched out on their own to form Ocean Blue Galleries in downtown St. Petersburg, Rote joined them.
“They were ready to take their expertise and form a new vision of how they felt the art experience should be,” says Rote.
“Jay and I are both from Ohio, around the same age, and think the same way. I knew he’d work hard. He knows the ins and outs of how to sell and promote and I can come in and bring the wow-factor and the experience.”
Speaking of experience, Rote’s current exhibit at Ocean Blue is sure to excite the Star Trek lover in everyone. “When you walk into a standard gallery, it’s very commercially driven with a focus on numbers,” says Rote.
“With growth, galleries have lost their focus on the quality of life and pursuit of happiness. I moved out of Miami and into St. Augustine to focus on my worth of happiness by creating new forms of work and changing perceptions on what I’m doing.”
Rote’s current exhibit brings out the happy in all of us. Even those who don’t appreciate Star Trek can appreciate this modern gallery experience. When you walk into Ocean Blue Galleries, you walk into the control room of a spaceship before continuing onto the gallery where Rote’s work is displayed in all its brilliance and “trekkie” feel.
A walk around the gallery will leave you wondering where Rote finds his ideas and inspiration. He claims his ideas come from all areas of life and in both waking and sleeping states.
“A company asked me to do something for their Rock Lives On opening, which is music inspired,” Rote recalls. “I thought, ‘everyone and their mother paints musicians…why would I want to do that?’”
The company started nudging Rote every couple of months and although he tried a couple of things, they fell flat. “All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, I woke up and thought ‘it’s the music notes!’ I started thinking about Warhol and screens and creating screens of the notes. Sometimes it’s just a process.”
Like any artist, Rote also struggles with mental blocks. So what does he do? He runs! “For two years now I’m running. I find that when I start running, all of the ideas start coming. I get more connected to being a kid. The ground, the smell of all the things going by me. It’s a much more connected plugging in. That’s where my inspiration comes from.”
The running process was also very cathartic to Rote during the break-up with his former partner of 15 years. “We broke up early last year. It was a difficult and exhausting break-up. Running helped.”
Now in a new relationship with a 22-year-old man, Rote is happier and more relaxed. “I don’t have knots in my stomach anymore. Although young, my boyfriend is a mature old soul.”
Rote came out at age 17, but never officially came out in his art and business world. “I’m proud, out, and not hidden, but I don’t think it needs to be waved in faces,” declares Rote.
“But now, I want to encourage kids, artists and all LGBTQ artists to ask for what they want. I’d love to be a role-model. We don’t have many gay role models in the art world. We have them in the music world and they’re coming out in the sports world, but not so much in the art world.”
Rote muses, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to see where art would be today amongst the gay ‘provocateurs’ if we weren’t told we were going to hell…if we weren’t kicked out of our houses…if we weren’t shamed and harassed?”
Rote will be back at Ocean Blue Galleries in September with another show and a different theme. He also plans to bring part two of the sci-fi exhibit to the gallery in October around Halloween. And Rote’s Mapplethorpe exhibit opens in Austin, Texas this November.
If you are around this weekend, stop by Ocean Blue Galleries on Saturday, July 1st between 4 and 7 PM for complimentary cocktails and a best-costume contest. Sci-fi themed of course!
To learn more about Adam Scott Rote, click here.
To learn about upcoming events at Ocean Blue Galleries, click here.
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