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Richmond Artist Scott Csoke Takes on Notions of Authenticity With "Guilty/Pleasure" at Quirk Gallery

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In the art world, Scott Csoke felt guilty for painting works that were aesthetically-pleasing, although he acknowledges how nice it was to make exactly what he wanted.

“I wound up feeling guilty about being myself, being gay and being an artist,” he says. “Some people struggle with accepting themselves.”

That struggle plays out in Csoke’s new show “Guilty/Pleasure” at Quirk Gallery. The artist had submitted his work — a collection of pieces that were bright, happy, neon pink and metallic gold — to Quirk for consideration more than a year ago. Quirk Gallery manager Adam Dorland saw them as appropriate for the Mezzanine, which typically features smaller collections. “We’ve also been trying to focus on featuring new and emerging artists in that space, sort of the same function as the Vault was at our former location,” he says.

But by the time they scheduled Csoke’s show, the artist’s work had undergone changes.

Csoke, who will graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University in December, had come out to family and friends just after he’d started college. To his surprise, the gay community wasn’t as open and inclusive as he’d anticipated. He felt as if he had to start all over learning relationship mores and found dating to be challenging.

The art community wasn’t much better, he says.

“At school, it was very competitive. I didn’t like being told what I was doing wasn’t important enough,” he says, “and some professors just wanted little versions of themselves. You have to get past all that and stay true to your own voice.”

To his surprise, different expectations were placed on gay artists because they were expected to address their sexuality in some way through their art. He resented it and felt that he was more than just a gay artist.

“I felt like I was saying things not everyone knew about,” he says. “I felt scared to talk about it because I’m not just gay — that’s just part of who I am.” Csoke wanted to challenge the idea of a guilty pleasure while also bringing the hypocrisy he’d experienced to the forefront.

Dorland is excited to see how the work has evolved. “These newest paintings are so different, but they’re still so fresh,” he says. “They seem so specific to now, without being trendy. Scott possesses a very specific aesthetic and has really developed a strong point of view.”

The work is abstract, Csoke says, because he feels that if he wants to say something with his painting, it’s easier because he has total control. “I can make up the rules,” he says.

Citing stream of consciousness, he usually begins with an idea or shape or combination of colors he wants to include and then lets his instincts take over. Sometimes that results in a quick, easy painting, and other times he finds himself painting over earlier versions repeatedly and starting anew.

“It’s about being a good editor to yourself,” he says. “Whatever comes afterward is always better.”

Csoke didn’t start painting until the 11th grade, mainly, he says, because it didn’t allow as much control as drawing. What kept him interested was the use of color, which he found allowed him to be more expressive. Although his degree at VCU will be in photography, he admits he always comes back to painting.

His challenge is to balance his desire to create beauty with the ability to convey a message of value. “Why is it everyone thinks art has to be raw and grungy now?” Csoke muses. And he isn’t interested in making his art overly facile for fear that viewers will look at something, get it immediately and walk away.

“No one’s art is more valid than anyone else’s,” he says. “I hope people will read my artist’s statement and keep that in mind while looking at the work.” S

“Guilty/Pleasure” runs through Aug. 27 at Quirk Gallery, 207 W. Broad St. quirkgallery.com.

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