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Scott Moore’s wonderful, whimsical world

By MARRIE STONE

Picture an iconic surfer catching the perfect wave. He’s bare-chested, buff and bald, wearing board shorts and a serious expression. Surf sprays behind him and sand stretches ahead. But instead of a surfboard, our man is riding…an iron. The vintage appliance is plugged into a wall socket with the outlet superimposed over the ocean, making us understand our surfer is only an image within an image, painted on a laundry room wall. But is he just a painting? Look again. The iron and its cord seem to sail off the canvas in a trompe-l’œil effect. 

In the foreground, a little blonde boy stands atop a pile of laundered shirts stacked on the shore (or is it a countertop?) holding a pail and shovel, transfixed by the scene. Behind him, a Pyrex measuring cup brims with powered detergent that looks like white sand. What else but a beach umbrella could be planted inside? 

Looming large – much larger than the little boy and even bigger than the man riding his iron – are two boxes of detergent. Of course, one brand is “Surf” and the other “Tide.” 

Welcome to the creative mind of watercolorist and oil painter Scott Moore, who views the world through a lens of both childlike innocence and astounding sophistication. Moore painted The Ironman in 2018. If you’re tired of trying to picture it, you can see the image by clicking here. It contains several elements associated with Moore’s signature style – mid-century nostalgia, trompe-l’œil effects, a clever play with visual puns and a proclivity to over-emphasize ordinary objects. In Moore’s eyes, mundane things (like boxes of detergent) make a big difference. 

Scott Moore 1

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

Watercolorist and oil painter Scott Moore has shown his work in Laguna Beach since the late 1970s. Moore has been a steadfast supporter of LOCA for more than 20 years.

“That’s the point in probably 90% of my paintings,” said Moore. “I try to take objects that are overlooked – whether they be toys or just everyday objects – and bring them up to an importance that is equal to what we consider the most important things in our lives.” 

This month, Moore is the honoree at LOCA’s virtual Birthday Bash. An autographed copy of Moore Than Meets the Eye: The Life and Times, Art and Wit of California Painter Scott Moore is available as an auction item. The 200-page hardback contains reproductions of many of Moore’s iconic paintings, as well as a detailed description of his process in producing The Ironman. It’s also filled with photos and anecdotes from Moore’s early life, like picking out hair color hues for his mother at the drugstore (and thereby honing his eye for color theory). The book brims with tales like these.

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Photo by Jeff Rovner

An autographed copy of “Moore Than Meets the Eye” is offered at the LOCA Birthday Bash auction opening on March 24

Moore graciously agreed to talk with me about his near 50-year career in the arts, his inspirations and techniques, his ability to maintain an innocent awe about the world around him and the wonderful way he renders that gift to his audience. He also shared his thoughts on LOCA and why he’s been a steadfast supporter of the organization for more than 20 years. 

Much like Moore’s Ironman, I invite you to hang on and enjoy the ride.

A childhood worth rendering

Born in 1949 in Westchester, a suburb of Los Angeles near LAX, Moore describes an idyllic boyhood. His mother was an avid storyteller, telling her son she picked him out of a pig farm to be a companion for his older sister. He assumed she was kidding, but nonetheless recounted some hours spent in the front of the bathroom mirror searching for signs of a snout.

Moore’s father was a creative director for an advertising agency. “He brought home all his new supplies,” he said. “Whenever he got markers or new innovative art supplies, he handed me the stuff. He never showed me how to do things, he just gave me stuff and let me draw.” Moore’s father encouraged his art, but also cautioned his son against a career in fine art. “Stick with graphic design,” he told his boy (born the second of five children). “You can’t make a living as a fine artist.” 

That parental combination of artistic talent and a comical instinct for vivid storytelling ignited a taste for whimsy in Moore. “I always had a sense of humor and an imagination. I believed I could move objects and tried really hard,” said Moore. “I also tried to fly. I remember flying for the first time when I was five years old in a dream. I’d wake up and work hard on trying to make that come true. I kept most of it to myself, but I was close with my brother and I’d share stuff with him. He believed everything I said, so we’d try together, putting capes around our necks and jumping off all kinds of stuff. We always had sprained ankles.” 

It’s a desire that never faded for Moore, who said his dreams were – and still are – vividly weird. “If I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, I either design a painting or I lie there, thinking about stepping off the deck and floating out over Bluebird Canyon, looking down. I don’t know if it could ever happen, but I’m still working on it,” he said.

Maybe it’s not so surprising Moore immersed himself in ventriloquism as a kid. In addition to making the impossible happen, it combined his love of old toys, his active sense of humor and imagination and his instinct for artistic misdirection. 

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

Moore poses with Dino, the 60-year-old puppet he received on his 13th birthday

“My mom wrote all my skits. I got good at it and traveled all around Southern California doing nonprofit stuff – hospitals, college football awards, scholarship nights and corporate events. I’d come home and my mom would grill me about where people laughed and when the jokes fell flat.” His act gained so much notoriety that Moore’s parents began screening his calls.

Dino’s still around. For years, Moore kept the dummy with his daughter’s doll collection. “It really creeped her out,” he said. “It creeped out my wife, too. I pulled him out last year for our 5-year-old grandson when he showed interest in it, but it scared him to death.” 

Moore’s genius is finding hidden magic in discarded things others might dismiss. “So,” he said. “I took Dino apart, cut his head open, went inside and rebuilt the entire thing. I carved him into a brand-new person with a cool hairdo and dressed him in my grandson’s clothes.” 

Scott Moore 4

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

Dino recently received a new look after scaring three generations of Moore’s family members

The art of war

Despite working toward a degree in art from Cerritos Junior College, Moore couldn’t escape the escalating war in Vietnam. The year was 1970 and tensions ran high. The college cut one of his courses, dipping him below the credits required to retain his deferment. Moore soon received his draft notice and decided to volunteer for the U.S. Marine Corps. 

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“Everybody in my platoon went to Vietnam except two of us,” Moore said. “I went to Hawaii as an artist for the Marine Corps. I’m not sure how many other artists were there, but I never met any other ones except the guy I took over for. I did projects like designing all the Hawaiian Hilton backgrounds for the Marine Corps Ball for two years. I was a 20-year-old kid, scared to death when the general handed me something to make.” 

Moore recalled a time he was asked to create a design for a general’s birthday cake. “They wanted something related to his garden back in Vietnam. So, I built a box that had levers on it. When you pressed a lever, this mongoose popped up out of the garden. Then a hammer came down that had the Fleet Marine Force Pacific shield on it and hit the mongoose on the head. I put a crybaby noisemaker inside the hammer that would cry as the mongoose sunk back down into his garden hole. I made really off-the-wall stuff, but they were big hits at the time.”

One of Moore’s favorite oil paintings came out of this period. Though he created The Aloha Motel in 2014, the memory arose from his time in the Marines. 

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

Moore poses with “The Aloha Motel,” a 2014 oil painting inspired by Moore’s service in the Marines during the Vietnam War

“I had this friend who got a tattoo every payday. I’d put him on the back of my Triumph motorcycle and drive him downtown, then wait outside on the curb,” Moore recalled. “All the prostitutes and junkies would hang around my motorcycle and talk. 

“Across the street from the tattoo parlor was this seedy motel. I don’t know if it was even functioning. The windows were dark, and I could barely see inside. It always stuck with me, so I did a painting called The Aloha Motel. It takes place at night when the place is empty. The manager is staring out the front door, looking to see if anybody’s going to show up. On his desk is a Polynesian lamp and an old Hawaiian framed print behind him with those vintage hotel keys and their plastic diamond fobs hanging on the wall. 

“I took all that minuscule stuff surrounding this guy every night – stuff that means so little to anybody – and made it larger than life outside on the wall of the building. It shows how important some of these little things are that get overlooked in life. It’s my favorite painting because it’s very moody, unlike some of my other happier stuff.”

Moore’s paintings are populated with nostalgia. In addition to tin toys, his work often incorporates old Coke bottles, milk bottles, retro clocks, vintage postcards and endless other paraphernalia from the 1950s and ‘60s. “Certain objects make you feel safe,” Moore said. “There’s a reassurance in knowing they’ve lasted so long. This may explain my huge toy and prop collection.” 

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

An enduring obsession with tin toys led to a substantial collection that occupies Moore’s home studio and inspires his many works

Over the years, Moore and his wife based their vacations around places that had good collectible shops. “After a while, I narrowed in on tin toys,” Moore said. “Some Japanese toys were the most fun, colorful and quirky. I’d sit down with those, put them in the sunlight and look at the cool shadows being cast. Then I’d dream up a story around them. I still do that.”

Most of Moore’s influences stem from his own imagination, which seems infinite. Technological trends, current cultural references or other artistic fads don’t interest him. “I’m pretty shut off from the world and a little willfully ignorant,” he said. “I pride myself on not being up on everyone else’s art. I look inward a lot and have the ability to manufacture my own ideas. It’s nice to come up with something and hear people say they’ve never seen anybody do anything like it.  That’s partially why I’m kind of intentionally dumb to the arts.”

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

A vast collection of toys populates both Moore’s imagination and his paintings

The man who changed everything

Although Moore followed in his dad’s artistic footsteps and spent several years working in graphic design, he wasn’t eager to expend his talents on commercial advertising. 

By 1977, after a series of frustrating day jobs, he turned his attention to fine art fulltime, beginning to show his watercolor paintings first at Art-A-Fair and then at the Festival of Arts, winning awards and securing commissions along the way. “I knew if I could get into the Festival of Arts, a ton of people would see my work,” Moore said. “After I got into the Art-A-Fair in 1978 and ‘79, things were selling so incredibly well that I talked my wife into moving to Laguna Beach and got into the Festival. That was the beginning of the whole thing. I switched from watercolor to oil only because the Festival kept giving me such ‘nice’ booths in the sun. I couldn’t protect my work, so I started painting in oil. That changed my whole life, just by virtue of my booth placement.”

Around this time, the renowned watercolorist, John Pike, caught Moore’s attention and once again changed the course of his career. Despite his classes being booked years in advance, Pike saw Moore’s portfolio and made an exception. 

“It was the most inspirational point of my entire life,” Moore said. “The things that happened in those conversations I had with John Pike changed my career. I came home with just seven or eight colors on my palette and really understood what I was doing.” 

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

A peek inside Moore’s studio reveals a glimpse into his complicated process

From those few colors, Moore was able to create every hue he’d ever need. An occupational hazard, however, is that he can’t mentally stop doing it. “When I came back from Pike’s workshop, I made a chart and cross-mixed every color in those eight tubes, coming up with every combination on earth. If I was driving and saw a tree, I’d mentally calculate the color – cobalt blue, burnt sienna with a tiny bit of new gamboge. I reduced everything I saw into my paint tubes. In fact, I’m doing it right now. I can’t help it. When I look at anything, I see what it would take to mix it.”

Moore began teaching at Saddleback College, using the John Pike method. “I was already painting this way but didn’t understand it,” he said. “Pike really explained it. I was so confident in the watercolor method, I thought that’s what I would do the rest of my life. I never dreamed I’d do any other medium.” 

Arts education for all

“If you ever learn something you think is worthwhile, pass it on.” That’s one of Moore’s mantras printed in Moore Than Meets the Eye. He’s not kidding. Moore is incredibly transparent about his process, sharing the step-by-step decision-making behind many of his paintings both in the book and on his website (click here).

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

Most paintings begin with a compelling juxtaposition of toys and Moore’s boundless imagination

He kept that commitment to education throughout his service on the board of the Festival of Arts Foundation, where he served as president for 18 years. 

“When I served on the Foundation, grant applications came in each year and LOCA always applied,” said Moore. “They had the best mission statement and their goals aligned with ours, emphasizing the education of the youth. Although the Foundation served every type of artistic medium and age group – whether it be dance or music, young or old – we emphasized youth education. LOCA nailed it every time with all their programs. They had so many classes, especially for young people, so they became our number one nonprofit.”

Every year, the Foundation raised LOCA’s grant amount a little bit. “I’d attend their events, see their exhibitions at the high school, go to their musical performances and anything else they put together,” Moore said. “Laguna Beach is a special community because of LOCA.” 

Moore Than Meets the Eye isn’t merely a humorous play on words. It’s an apt description. It’s not only Moore’s work that offers up new rewards each time you study it, but Moore himself. In addition to all this artistic talent, Moore is a surfer, musician, sports enthusiast, teacher and active supporter of the Laguna arts community. He’s also a devoted husband, dad and grandfather. But for all this astounding talent and enduring success, it’s his grace, kindness and humility that strike me most. Once you begin peeling back the many layers, there’s indeed more than meets the eye. 

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Photo by Nancy Villere, Crush Photo Studios

Scott Moore is this year’s honoree at LOCA’s virtual Birthday Bash. As president of the Festival of Arts Foundation for 18 years, Moore secured numerous grants for the organization and remains a steadfast supporter of their programming.

LOCA’s online public auction runs from March 24 through 30. Registration is free. The auction preview is open now at www.32Auctions.com/BASH22. Additional information and membership sign-up is at www.LOCAarts.org.