May 30 2012 01:16 PM

Hearts, veins, trees, rivers, love, family: Cardiff painter is obsessed with how things work

"Soul Cycle" by Scott Saw

In the wee hours, long after his two little boys have been tucked into bed, Scott Saw holes up in the artist's studio he's built in his Cardiff garage. Near canvases in various stages of completion, there are easels and jars filled with brushes and drawers crammed with tape and tools. Thick wax candles flicker by stacks of books and curious objects. Every surface is caked with paint.

This is where you'll find Saw most nights from around 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., especially now, as he prepares for his first solo show in five years. Spaces in Between, at Little Italy's Subtext Gallery, chronicles Saw's life of late, a period bookended by a divorce and a new wife and baby, Jett, who was born on May 11.

Life, like his studio, can get pretty messy.

"This body of work is about transitioning from one situation to another," Saw says. "Falling in love and the birth of my child have been big ones."

Saw's cohesive collection includes richly symbolic oil paintings rife with motifs that have always featured strongly in his work: veins, organs and skulls alongside birds, butterflies and other natural elements, from trees to far-off stars.

His signature red and blue veins, as they branch up and out, appear arboreal and sometimes morph into trees. "There are patterns in nature that seem to repeat," he observes. "If you look at anything, whether trees or mountains and river valleys from high in the air, you see the same patterns from microscopic to macro levels. I've always been intrigued by that."

Saw recalls poring over layered anatomy books as a kid, an interest that deepened during college biology classes.

"I'm obsessed with the way things work," he explains. "Here we are in these bodies, and I'm always hopeful that there's something more. I'm trying to put my finger on what that might be."

Hearts—which crop up frequently in his work—represent "life and love and vitality," he says. That's accurate both biologically and metaphorically. He often mixes hearts with skulls, sometimes seamlessly so that they appear to be a united form.

"It's life and death intertwining and how they're related," he says. "The skull is the part of any animal's body that represents the form it once took. It's a significant symbol of what something once was."

Within these body parts, caterpillars crawl and hang in cocoons and butterflies flit through crevices. Cultures throughout history have revered Lepidoptera as a powerful symbol of the soul. "From the caterpillar to the butterfly—that's the metamorphosis of the heart," Saw says. "We get to go through changes. We metamorphosize."

Human transitions may be fraught with grief, like death or divorce, or exuberantly ecstatic, like falling in love or fathering a child. The profundity of these feelings, particularly the good ones, mitigates the most essential fact of the human condition: We're all going to die.

Stars, another common element in Saw's work, speak to this truth with both uneasiness and awe. "I'm always thinking of the idea that we're just stardust," he explains. "Our universe is just a speck in the larger scheme of things. I try to keep that perspective and I think it helps me throughout my life. It makes you realize how lucky we are to be here in this place and time."

The arrival of Jett— half brother to Saw's son from his first marriage, 6-year-old Kai—reminded Saw just how amazing our existence truly is. "In a way, every one of us is our own universe. We're the summation of so many atoms and cells and moving parts and things that are coming together to create this body. When you bring someone into this world, you can appreciate that on so many levels."

A couple of paintings in the Spaces in Between series are specifically about his baby boy, the logical conclusion to other pieces that are very clearly about desire and sex. "What brings something into this world is passion," he says.

At its center, one work features a fecund egg that is almost solar in its glowing presence, surrounded by anxious sperm and fetal skeletons, then bordered by butterfly wings and stars. "They suggest limitlessness," Saw says with a papa's obvious optimism.

Limitlessness could mean many things, from what we achieve in life to whatever we hope awaits us afterwards. "I've never been to church a day in my life. Never will. But I appreciate the idea that there's something more and try to explore that through my art."

In this new body of work, Saw has embraced mandalas, a form of spiritual art that typically exhibits perfect radial balance. "Mandalas are really symmetrical. Harmonious," he says. "I'm trying to depict the mind and body in harmony."

Balanced is a state Saw's worked hard to achieve. In addition to his new wife and baby, he also recently launched his own business, Vixen Photography, transitioning from a day job as a graphic designer to selfemployed pin-up photographer. (You may recall one of his sexy cheesecake pics in CityBeat's May 9 Summer Guide issue.)

Saw's success as a photographer—he's fielding requests from national tattoo and pinup mags—has given him the freedom to take chances with his art. "I don't know how other people will react to [my latest body of work]. But it doesn't matter," he says, adding that he's not relying on art income to support his family.

His sons won't even get to see the show in person. Saw feels that much of the work is inappropriate for children. "But [Kai] is watching me as an artist. He's catching on to my lifestyle. There's nothing wrong with what I'm doing. I'm just depicting what's going on in and around my life. When they're older, they'll appreciate that."

Despite the personal narrative, Saw says much of his work is heavily encrypted. "One of my goals is to find a universal message and throw it out there," he says.

As for those pieces that are a little more obvious, Saw smiles wisely. "Sometimes you've just got show people your guts."

Spaces in Between runs June 8 through July 6 Subtext Gallery 2479 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy.

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