After working as an artist in Brooklyn, Scott Debus was just hoping to find a similar artistic community when he moved to Charleston six years ago. Little did he know that he'd play a major role in an active, volatile period in the local underground and contemporary art scenes. Now, prepping for a move to Austin, he's taking a look back on his time in the Holy City.
While still a newcomer to Charleston, Debus opened up the Bogard Street Gallery, which helped him connect with other like-minded artists. "When I moved here, there were little galleries all over the place, and mine was a little gallery away from the scene, but it proved to be a meeting place," Debus says. "That's where I got to meet some great people." Like too many contemporary galleries (Modernisme, Eye Level Art, SCOOP), the Bogard space was short-lived, but Debus shifted his focus to other projects, exhibiting in local galleries and participating in artist events.
In 2007, Debus teamed up with Gustavo Serrano and Olivia Pool to host the first Kulture Klash, a massive art party at 10 Storehouse Row. Over the years, the event grew to bring together the underground art community a few times a year. "All I did was coordinate," Debus says. "People would come up with ideas, and then I would facilitate. There was a big explosion because then Eye Level Art opened, and SCOOP, and then it seemed like everyone was having shows all over the place. But everything I did was for the scene."
Alas, Kulture Klash lost its home, which was a big blow for Debus. "It's been rough the last year not being able to do Kulture Klash," Debus says. "People here need to do more than just come to openings. They need to buy."
Debus has proven to be a versatile artist during his time in Charleston, producing everything from vibrant, jigsaw-like paintings to funhouse-mirror portraits to grafitti-inspired murals. In recent years, his work has taken on a more realist bent. "It's more like a puzzle to me than a painting," he says of his process. "I just love the action of doing it. It doesn't matter what I'm playing with, it matters what's in front of me. I'll mix spray paint with acrylic. I like to work very free and not have too much of a plan with what I'm doing.
"I would say I've gotten technically better," he adds. "I knew I could be a technical artist, but it wasn't until this last year where I spent more time with a painting and painted more realistically. Before I would put out stuff at a faster rate with less detail, now I'm more focused on detail."
He counts local artists like Ishmael and John Pundt as major inspirations for his work. "I really progressed a lot being influenced by the other artists here. You can't help but be influenced by the other people around you. There is a great art community here, and I am very sad to be leaving that."
One lasting reminder of his collaboration with local artists is in the movie Rock of Ages, which came out earlier this summer. Debus, Patch Whisky, and Ishmael painted several murals in Miami that can be seen in the movie. Debus also did mural work for the upcoming movie Step Up: Revolution. "They took a bunch of my paintings and put them in the Miami Museum," he says. "And I think what happens in the movie is a sculpture comes to life and people start dancing around. Then the sculpture goes up to my painting and becomes camouflaged within it."
Though he's headed west, don't be surprised to see Debus' face again. "This has been my favorite place to live," Debus says. "There isn't much competition here, because everyone gives to each other.
"I've gotten addicted to surfing," he adds. "So once I miss that, I'll be back."