THE TUBES OF Walter K. Scott’s neon sign Headbanger (for Shelley), 2016, flash sequentially on and off, causing a cartoonish head to spin vertically round and round. Because the head doesn’t fling itself back and forth as a punk’s would, but inscribes an endless circle, its open mouth conjures less of the heavy-metal yell suggested by the title than a shriek of existential horror. Scott’s work hangs on a wall in the vestibule of Montreal’s Musée d’Art Contemporain. If bureaucracy hadn’t intervened, the sculpture would have hung for the duration of the Biennale de Montréal outdoors in the city’s Saint-Henri neighborhood, a home to crust punks, musicians, and artists, where Scott lived after graduating from Concordia University in 2009. There, it might have been an avatar of the locals’ social precarity and hedonistic release. Here, it reads as a protest of institutional entrapment.
Screaming faces are a common motif in Scott’s popular comic strip, Wendy. One character, a slutty gay substance abuser named Screamo, always looks like a doodled Munch. But when other characters, especially the heroine, utter small-talk clichés or other expressions of resignation to social niceties, their eyes and mouths empty out, leaving black circles in a mask of numbed shock. Wendy (Koyama Press, 2014), Scott’s first volume of collected comics, takes place primarily in Saint-Henri, where Wendy struggles to stop thirsting after booze, drugs, gossip, and boys and devote herself to her career as an artist. Wendy’s Revenge, the second volume, released in November, chronicles her entrée into art institutions: a stint with a gallery in Vancouver, a residency in Japan, and a show in Los Angeles that leads to subterfuge at the New York Art Book Fair. When it ends, she’s hoping to apply to grad school. Scott is presumably gathering material for a third volume at the University of Guelph in Ontario, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree.
Wendy is an alter ego of sorts for Scott, and his sculptures (besides the ones in neon tubes, aluminium, and other hardy materials of public art) also have a sketched-out, stand-in humanity to them: denim, vinyl, and camouflage-print fabrics stretched over rods that bend slightly under their weight. Scott’s three-dimensional stick figures express the same vulnerability that saturates his Wendy comics. Art can seduce its audience by baring a soft spot; Scott further opens his work to a multifaceted relatability by creating a context for it with the storytelling of popular media.
CURRENTLY ON VIEW Work by Walter K. Scott at the Biennale de Montréal, Musée d’Art Contemporain, through Jan. 15.