We arrive for a visit with Athena Scott in her studio Friday morning on the second floor of the Cherry Street Pier. I have to confess that until this point, I have never been up to the second floor, catching glimmers of the inner workings of those resident artists from the market space on the first floor. Walking up the staircase, I am increasingly curious and giddy with adventure. We pass an ongoing photography exhibition in The Platform and other darkened studios until, down the hall, we arrive at Scott’s. An arresting ten-by-twelve-foot painting stands opposite the studio entrance, immediately capturing my attention. A background of sunshine yellow and deep orange overwhelms my senses as I peer up to take in a portrait of a man and a woman towering above. The woman in the painting looks straight at me. Or through me. She embraces a man whose body is not filled in except his face, which is shadowed in blue, his eyes closed. I get the deep impression that he holds the world's weight on his shoulders. And she holds him. She remains a sketch on the canvas except for her detailed eyes, a few wisps of hair, and the arm cradling his head. Her furrowed brow and cheek pressed onto this head tell a profound story, one I have seen before despite never having viewed these figures. I know that woman. She is strong right now, so he does not have to be. But she is also weathered and weary and holding on best she can. My breath catches, and I have to pause. It's striking. With that, I turn into the studio
Athena Scott doesn't simply paint portraits; she captures the tail of a person's spirit and manifests it onto canvas. Taking in her workspace, I am immediately struck by the sheer amount of paintings in the small room. Two large ripped floor-to-ceiling sheets of craft paper hang side by side, displaying full-body paintings of Scott's niece and nephew. Shelves display images painted on wood boards as well as construction debris collages. Canvases hang on every wall and sit on racks, and easels hold portraits of African American men and women on brightly colored backgrounds. Faces peek out from all angles, but rather than feel cramped, the studio is cozy with life pouring out, evidence of an artist constantly creating and looking to better herself.
Scott, age forty-seven, graduated in the spring of 2022 from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with an MFA after working for fourteen years as a web designer. She made the transition in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic disrupted her work in web design, which she took as an opportunity to change careers into being a full-time artist, a passion she has engaged in since childhood. Scott's primary mediums are acrylic painting and drawing with ink and charcoal, which are evident throughout her studio. While many canvases have portraits on them, others are blocks of color, examples of Scott’s artistic process, which starts by painting a colored background. Her subjects come from current and historical reference photos, often but not limited to her family. Finished paintings that reveal the underdrawing characterize her work. Scott describes this part of her paintings as “giving enough information so someone else looking in can see some of themselves.” She paints from the inside out, beginning with the eyes and gaze, which receive the most attention to detail. Conveying the whole emotion of each person in their expression allows Scott’s portraits to balance a traditionally “unfinished” look without feeling incomplete.
Standing in the studio surrounded by piercing gazes and sketched forms, it is evident that while Athena Scott paints portraits of other people, each piece is a deeply personal search. Painting both cultural icons and her family, Scott explores her past and her belonging. In our conversation, I learned that the painting outside the studio, completed for the Tiny Room for Elephant Festival, is titled What Happens to a Dream Deferred and is based off of a still from the 1961 film A Raisin in the Sun . By painting figures of the past, Scott makes parallels and connections to our lived present, not just for herself but for anyone looking at her work. In every portrait, the emotions conveyed are ones that all humans experience. In the eyes of Scott’s subjects, we can see ourselves and process our own stories.
 TinyRoom for Elephants photos were taken by Cathie Berrey from BeauMonde Originals