Cloud Cult's Scott West paints with rhythm and story


Scott West may be best known for the live paintings he creates during Cloud Cult concerts, but this weekend he has his own solo show at Tarnish & Gold Gallery featuring studio paintings he's been working on since the beginning of 2010. He quit his creative design job in January with the intention of focusing on his fine art painting full time (along with his work with Cloud Cult), and now he wants to share with people what he's been doing all year. Though he has formal art training from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, this will be his first major solo exhibition since college. 


The title of the show, "Still," is "both intentional and slightly ironic in nature," West states, "because one of the things that I'm usually dealing with in painting is the element of time." For his Cloud Cult pieces, West has only about 45 minutes, which doesn't allow much time to create a composition, so instead he improvises using the rhythm and mood of a song. From abstraction, he pulls out a character or a narrative.  

West's work merging music and art began when he played guitar with Cloud Cult's Craig Minowa in college. At Minowa's studio, West would paint while his friend wrote music. "He was digesting what I was painting and bringing it into the music." When West said that he wanted to leave the band to pursue his art, Minowa suggested that they bring the collaboration to the stage. "Painting became my main instrument," he says.  
In West's earlier studio work, he would spend a lot of time creating complex compositions, but recently his rock show paintings have informed his studio work in that now all of his paintings are born from music--although not necessarily Cloud Cult music. Lately, he's been listening to a lot of Sigur Rós, which he likes because of their huge bellowing orchestra compositions. He also finds inspiration from Beirut, Mimicking Birds, Bon Iver, and Tom Waits, among others. 

West says that he sees key signatures the way he feels saturation in color. Just as a minor key signature causes a psychological reaction in the listener, different color creations create mood and story. 

Indeed, storytelling and character study is a big part of the work West does. In his Cloud Cult paintings, he creates narratives using archetypes, but in pieces where he has more time to develop the ideas, he can bring more depth to his subjects.  

Inspired by such contemporary painters as James Jean, Philip Guston, Sean Barber, Eric White, Willem De Kooning, and Picasso, West incorporates abstraction into telling stories. He's drawn to Picasso's early narrative work, and De Kooning's portraits of his wife. "When you look at a person's face," West says, "It tells a story about that person. It really takes the viewer to complete the second half of the story. I look at a painting like the last scene of a play--the viewer concocts their own idea of what's happened."  
During the run of the show, which goes from Saturday, November 6 to December 5, West will be painting in the gallery when he doesn't have other Cloud Cult obligations. The amount of time--about 20 hours a week--doesn't faze him though since on an average he spends 70 hours a week painting. His intention is to expose people to the process of building a painting. He'll also be changing the show as he completes new work, which he estimates will amount to a new painting every one or two days. "My hope is that it'll be a completely different show by the end of the month," he states.  

"Still" exhibits at the Tarnish & Gold Gallery (1511 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis). The opening night party is this Saturday with musical performances by The Wapsipinicon and Dewi Sant. For more info, go to or