Focus on the Family
Gloucester’s Rosemary Scott-Fishburn makes art “to connect with people — and one of those people is myself.”
In a swirl of lush romantic settings — streaked forest light, tawny meadows, limpid gardens, conspiratorial natural spaces — Rosemary Scott-Fishburn, 41, photographs her children. She layers each work with more photographic images, sometimes viewed through a clear box. The layers of texture and light feel like layers of memories, the jewels childhood leaves behind. Scott-Fishburn’s work, through mystery and beauty, not sentiment, charts the complicated landscape of being a child and a mother. Scott-Fishburn lives with her three children in Gloucester.
Tell us about yourself and your journey so far.
My formal training was in painting, and I came to photography serendipitously through a snapshot I took of my son running on a dirt road in an antique coat in late winter. The trees were bear, the snow was gone, and the sky was gray.
I took a series of shots with a little point-and-shoot camera, and interested in the way the image made me feel, I wanted to print it so I could look at it some more. Lacking any paper, I printed it on an overhead projector transparency sheet that I had kicking around. I don’t know why I taped it to the wall of my kitchen, because that is definitely not something I would normally do, but as the week wore on, the transparency curled away from the wall, and the light shining through created a 3-D projection onto the wall behind it.
I remember friends walking into the kitchen and stopping in their tracks to stare at the effect. That was when I suspected that I was onto something. When I printed several images and left them stacked on the table, I noticed that when I picked them up and separated the layers, the 3D image was magnified.
That was when I began fashioning plexiglass boxes to suspend the layered transparency images in, and the images were all of my children in various outdoor locations, running away from the camera and toward their own imaginations and curiosity. Not much of a craftsperson, my initial attempts lacked any sort of polish, but the results were exciting, and the images were moving.
Out of curiosity, I entered five pieces into a national competition at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans, and to my amazement all five got in, and I received top billing in the show. However, when I went to ship the work, two of the pieces broke in the mail due to the poor craftsmanship. I was so embarrassed, and I thought that it was over, but to my surprise the gallery director contacted me to tell me how much he loved the work and wanted me to perfect the craft, and if I could do so he would give me solo exhibition in the gallery.
I immediately got to work, however I also soon afterward became pregnant with my third child, and the pregnancy was extremely difficult and I was not able to progress. I was not even able to walk, let alone stand, and breathing toxic fumes from the chemicals used to fuse plexiglass was out of the question. I felt the opportunity slipping away. Also, eleven days before I had my daughter, I received the tragic news that my friend Elisa had died giving birth to her fourth baby.
I was devastated and began a spiral of anxiety that was somewhat paralyzing. I slowly dug out of it with a lot of help, and to my amazement, the director persisted in his interest, and eventually I decided to design and outsource the fabrication of plexiglass boxes to a professional. The director loved the result, and I had my show, Mother Vision, dedicated to Elisa, and began representation in 2016. The work traveled to major art fairs, including Art Basel Miami, Texas Contemporary, ArtMrkt San Francisco, and Volta New York, and the Ogden Museum. However, rather than experiencing tremendous success, I became stunted in my artistic growth, because of the branding experience.
I was unsure of whether I was supposed to make new work, whether I was supposed to enter in other shows, or what I was supposed to do at all. Could I experiment with new imagery? I was also raising three children including a baby, and I was overwhelmed and disillusioned. I know that sounds like I wasted an opportunity, and perhaps I did, however at a certain point I decided that, no matter what, I would produce art every day, for my own enrichment and grounding.
I began creating an image and posting it to Instagram every evening after the kids went to bed. I gave myself the goal of every day for a year, and at the end I would figure out a solo show. The images begin to need a story, or some sort of written word to accompany them, because I was feeling the need to connect my experience with the work. And so, I begin writing captions, reflections on life, motherhood, the artistic experience, anything that was truly rattling around in my mind as I went through my day and created the work. The result was a period that grew me as an individual and as an artist in an exponential sense.
I still struggle with branding and consistency, which I suppose is a form of immaturity or possibly simply amateurism. However, having reached the point that I had supposedly been working toward for my whole career, namely gallery representation at a major internationally recognized gallery, and found it unfulfilling, I realized the reason I make art is to connect with people, and one of those people is myself.
That said, I will always be incredibly grateful to that director for essentially providing me with a free and benevolent education, and for demanding and expecting true excellence of me. If there was a gallery that was interested in representing an artist like me, I would happily work with one again, but absent that, I’m also very happy being independent.
The show that I produced last year in Beverly, Mother Mind, sold more work and reached more people from my actual community than I could have dreamed of before.
It’s wonderful to know that the work and story behind it reaches people and speaks to them, and honestly in particular my work speaks to mothers, whose experience can be trivialized, infantilized, and rendered invisible in our society. It’s important to me to speak to the deep experience of being a mother, and to validate and essentially just see it, because so much of being a mother goes unseen.
What would you recommend to an artist new to the city, or to art, in terms of meeting and connecting with other artists and creatives?
I think that life has become easier for artists, primarily. We can self-promote more easily and share our experiences in ways not previously possible. I also look at the quality of work coming out of art schools, and it excites me. I was able to mentor two college art students this year at my alma mater, and the work the student body is producing is leaps and bounds above what my class was producing in 2000. The internet has been a boon for us.
What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
Follow me on Instagram for my regular postings. I sell my work independently, and I also am available as a photographer for hire, but rather than creating traditional portraits from your images, I create custom artworks, both 2- and 3-D.
[Originally published by Boston Voyager]
▶︎ Rosemary Scott-Fishburn is available for private portrait sessions (like this one, below). You can contact her via her website.
Terri Unger is an editorial, commercial and portrait photographer living on Cape Ann. See more of her work here.