Scout Zabinski (b. 1997) is a self-taught, Brooklyn-based artist. Her work explores her own history with trauma through what she terms psychological self portraiture. Her paintings navigate themes of body image, the male gaze, and everyday life while alluding to weighted secrets of abuse and addiction. These nude life-scale “Scout’s” invert the gaze into a two-way parlay, a means of self-reclamation and preservation. Each painting begins as a photoshopped image made on her iPhone, based on memory and the subconscious via assemblage. The repetitive nude figures dares the viewers to engage as a voyeur and friend, mirroring life in its trauma and beauty while maintaining a sense of playfulness. Vulnerable and tender, she disrobes her mind and body as a form of therapy and meditation.
She holds a BA from the Gallatin School at NYU, where she studied psychology, postcolonial feminism, art history and literature.
We had a chance to speak to the Scout about her practice, her tattoos, and what it means to be a “self-taught painter painting self.”
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and what brought you to art.
A: The first thing I am inclined to say is that I’m a painter, but I guess that’s kind of a given already. I started making art when I was a kid. Some of the earliest memories I have are staying after school and sitting in the back of a Catholic Church with our choir teacher. She used to yell at me when I painted or drew in opposing directions and her Botoxed lips inevitably spat at me or on whatever I making.
But it wasn’t until high school that I realized how much I loved painting. I took some studio classes and made these weird hybrid half naked human-half animal recreations of Renaissance art works. I guess the fascination with the human body began really early for me, but at that time I didn’t know it was linked to sexual abuse from my childhood.
Painting at that time kept me alive. I was really sick and almost died from anorexia when I was 16. I channeled all that into the work I made and it was the first time I noticed how uncomfortable my art made people. It still does but in a more palatable way I think.
Q: As a fellow Gallatin alumna, I would love to hear more about how you crafted your interdisciplinary studies concentrating on Painting, Psychology, Art History, and Post-Colonial Feminism, and how that is reflected in your paintings.
A: I kind of fell into psychology by chance. I took a class on the idea of the “double” my first semester at Gallatin. It was the best course I ever took. We dove into Freud and Otto Rank and some Hitchcock films. Looking back now, I basically found my painting voice in that class.
The other subjects grew into my concentration as I went through the years. As a kid, I was always fascinated with the Renaissance and how rooted it was in myth, religion, and dogma. I read all of The Divine Comedy by Dante as a sophomore then went on to study literature from the 19th century about women in domesticity like Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, etc. It was interesting to look at these alongside the artwork being made at that time and I then started to write my thesis.
My thesis was about Western aesthetic conditioning and the underlying rules of art making. I argued against the notion of progress in art and rather that the work we make changes in accordance with the socio-political climate, which is illustrated in our collective and individual psyches.
I think all of this forced me to look inward more. I didn’t want to talk about anyone else’s experience. I just wanted to understand my own and then after that, tell stories that people see themselves in. The greatest power of an artist is to feel and in turn, make others feel.
Q: Your journey with self-portraits has definitely evolved over time. You began portraying yourself with a bag over your head, and now paint full body nudes — face and all. How did this change in your practice develop, and do you find painting yourself to be cathartic, nerve-racking, affirming?
A: Well truthfully, being self taught, I was terrified of painting my own face because I knew how critical I would be. But the nudity was important because I was trying to understand my addiction and the way I treated my body. About two years ago now, I remembered being abused when I was 12. I had been making these paintings for a year at that point. When I remembered this, I felt like I had to include my face or I would never uncover the rest of the stories I had also potentially forgotten. Each painting now is like a puzzle. Sometimes I know what it’s about and other times it teaches me a lesson I may or may not have been ready or attempting to learn.
Q: You have some very interesting (in a good way!) tattoos, like the heart candy on your left hand that reads ‘Spit’. Do you design them? If not, would you ever consider making a flash sheet?
A: Haha thank you. I have picked quite a few of them and worked with some artists on creating the custom tattoos.
The “Spit” one for instance originally said “Bugs” in the candy heart but I didn’t want that so the artist asked me what four letter word I wanted instead and thus it was born. He and his friend actually dared me to get it on my hand. Clearly, I don’t take dares lightly.
Q: Where do you find inspiration? (Music, sounds, sights, movies, people, etc.) / Where do you find the inspiration for the settings, props, and costumes within your self-portraits?
A: My biggest inspiration at the moment is stories from antiquity, whether that be the Bible, literature, folklore, or myths. I’m gearing up for my next solo show in May of 2023 and I want the show to be less about everyday life and more about an imaginary realm. It’s a show that focuses on the idea of creating my own undying mythology on canvas. I’m really excited for it.
Whenever I get an idea for a painting, it kind of exists in my head already as a finished image. I then just try and source the components by doing a photoshoot, researching settings, taking pictures of objects and places I’m attracted to, etc. They start as these weird collages on my iPhone and the painting process is just a way to bring it to life.
Thank you Scout for letting us into your mind and sharing your practice with us. 💙
For more about the artist, follow her on IG @scoutzabinski and check out her website.