Scott LoBaido. You know this guy?
I bet you don’t. In fact, I’m certain that unless you know him personally, you definitely don’t.
On Saturday, February 29th, Leap Day of 2020, Staten Islander News Service was invited to interview Mr. LoBaido at his art studio in Grasmere. Leap Day happens every four years, but this kind of interview only happens a few times a decade. We left with pure gold: wisdom, truth, and passion spun from the artist’s own mouth.
The interview lasted three full hours. It flew by. Mr. LoBaido advised us by e-mail before meeting that he liked to talk, “long, passionate, and fast” so a recording device was his best suggestion. I have to note that the first two digital recorders we used were inoperative; not just a dead battery but total equipment failure.
Next, a backup was misbehaving and only began working about ten minutes from the art studio. Additionally, the first camera’s battery died unexpectedly, and the sound on the backup camera cut out from time to time, as some interference messed up the audio. But we were prepared.
Well, mostly at least. Redundancy, in two forms: firstly, the cell phone recorder, and secondly, the dedicated digital machine that decided to start working only when we were almost there, made sure we caught every precious word. A background in radio communications never hurts.
Was a devil, or The Very Devil Himself, thwarting our efforts? While it may seem comical to suggest this, it seemed some unseen “force” wanted very badly for Mr. LoBaido’s voice to remain obscured, clouded in confusion, misinformation, and misunderstanding: The product of carefully crafted, manipulative fake news.
Scott LoBaido was captured best in video. Though we had not planned to video record the interview, I felt compelled to do so in short order. As this decision was in impromptu one, there was no tripod, and the video is somewhat shaky at times. Even so, it was well worth the effort. What was captured was Mr. LoBaido at his best; in his element, among his works, Scott opened up.
In this ongoing series entitled, “Scott LoBaido: A Titanic Voice and Visionary of Staten Island,” we shall explore this interview, section by section. It’s far too much to grapple in a single piece. Mr. LoBaido talks about politics. He talks about faith. He talks about artistic vision. He talked about passion. Every word springs forth with spontaneity from his heart, unfiltered, and genuine, with a Presence that is clarity and concern itself.
Reader, be forewarned that Mr. LoBaido is far more than the one-dimensional image mass media has rendered him. The real man is far more than this, with a depth of character reaching places most never dream of. In summary, he is Staten Island’s most famous artist, and a celebrity throughout Staten Island, and small towns across the U.S., for a good reason.
He is real. Raw. A person fully expressing himself, holding back nothing, giving life his all. He’s not only Staten Island’s native son, but a sort of visionary, a shamanic presence, even.
That’s also, no doubt, why so many news outlets spike his name, and tar his goodwill. Scott tells it straight, and perhaps this embarrasses those who don’t share in such gifts. Scott LoBaido is nothing like the image we’ve been presented with. It’s very easy to paint a picture with words.
How does Scott LoBaido do it? How is he so raw and real? In his own words: “There’s no effort. It’s just natural. I don’t have to try anything. I don’t have to be somebody I;’m not. I’m who I am.”
And, in the past, writers worked overtime to help us make all the wrong associations about Mr. LoBaido, just so that none of us would look at him and his life’s work without filters, with our own eyes, instead of the skewed view they present. We were told what to think, how to see Scott. And even when it seemed complimentary, the undertone and subtext suggested something else entirely.
I was expecting a person I’d either find very real or very annoying, based on media reports. The idea that he’s genuine, perennially “real”? That came from what I’ve seen in interviews and read in quotes, what my own eyes and ears apprehended. This is, in fact, the person I encountered.
The idea that he might be annoying or somehow “off”? Purely the product of media voices far louder than his own. Merely a fiction, a fantasy created by wordsmiths and bored/boring newscasters working overtime to mislead. This all became too clear after only a few minutes with him.
In fact, Mr. LoBaido was no clown, but rather a perfect gentleman and graciously entertained us, guests at his studio, the space where he is alone with the universe in his mind and heart, with a politeness and earnestness that seemed downright Southern. You may be shocked, dear reader, to find that Mr. LoBaido is an egalitarian who does not judge others. That he isn’t offended by LGBTQAI people and wants us all to do what’s in our hearts. In short, he wants us to be free.
He wants us to be true Americans, creative and expressive citizens possessing “The Three H’s”, a phrase that his high school art teacher Mrs. Lonergan taught lovingly imparted to him in his childhood: Heart, Head, and Hand. Not only would this be the mark of a true artist, but any person who wishes to be their best.
Italian Grandmothers can teach a lot more than just behaving yourself, being a good boy, and eating all the spaghetti, and his both Grandmothers taught him kindness and thankfulness. Scott talks about bias against Italian-Americans, the working class, and Christians, especially practitioners of the Catholic faith.
Arriving at his studio, we saw his famous truck outside, hand-painted with an almost-psychedelic American Flag design dripping with colors, gigantic horns attached to both the hood and roof of the car. The studio was unassuming. Cozy. A peaceful, calm vibe pervaded the space. A performance artist who sometimes dressed as Superman, this must be his Fortress of Solitude. And indeed, we were greeting not by Superman but rather Clark Kent, an unassuming man with an honest smile, sincere eyes, and black-rimmed rectangular glasses.
His pushed-back hair was salt-and-pepper-colored, and his beard as well. Even so, he exuded a youthfulness that was in direct opposition to these other outward indicators that he has been on the Earth for not a little while. Ageless comes to mind. Sporting with a white fleece zip-up sweat jacket, black jeans, dark socks, and tan leather boots, Scott could be mistaken for any other NYC artist, save for the navy blue TR(I)UMP(H) shirt of his own design. That element of fashion jarred sharply with the usual stereotypes of the “creative.”
His studio looked like a place where tons of work gets done. And has gotten done. Work of a creative nature, judging by all the bottles and tubes of paint, canvases, and easels scattered all about. The vibe was comfortable with a warmth imparted by what’s gone on there over time, and I could immediately feel the innumerable late nights Scott spent there in the last many years working furiously to complete his myriad artistic visions.
The interview took place in the back portion of the studio, where there was a couch where we two interviewers sat, directly across from a grey and cream-colored flower-patterned upholstered wingback armchair from circa 1962, in which Mr. LoBaido at times sat, but often rose in intervals. There were paintings on the walls, paintings stacked on the floor, painting everywhere. Classical music softly drifted through the air at a volume barely perceptible” “It keeps me here.” This is what Scott listens to while creating his visual masterpieces.
Scott was flanked on one side of his easy chair by a large painting of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. he had recently completed, with the MLK quote, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now” in a cyan script, and an even larger American Flag painting on his other side. A gilded black lacquer desk with a Japanese bird-and-flower motif on its top, for his water and bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label, sat beside a mounted taxidermied raven to his right, and a smaller, modest, beat-up-looking paint-splashed table to his left, just for his pack of Marlboro Lights and his lighter, Scott LoBaido sandwiched between all this, seated in the middle of his world, a world he created.
A sleeping baby, half-squid, half-human, lay peacefully swaddled in a blanket in a small translucent blue plastic container on the floor, right between the MLK painting and the lacquered table. Without a doubt, one of Mr. LoBaido’s more surreal and modernist creations.
We entered into this world and were his guests for three timeless hours, transported to realms unimaginable, without the aid of drugs or drink. Tripping on truth and candor, we had a lively and memorable interview, time spent in a cocoon of revelation, mirth, and soulful nostalgia.
Mr. LoBaido never stops moving. He sits down and talks for a bit, his voice always expressing his feelings in no uncertain terms, alternatively yelling for emphasis and talking quietly and precisely, never, ever at a loss for words. His lilting Staten Island accent bleeds emphasis and feeling; not being affected by his words is impossible.
In another life he might have been a stand-up comic. Or a talk show host. (He was, briefly, a regular guest on Curtis Sliwa’s radios show a few decades back.) In fact, he had foregone the life of a workingman to be an artist; had he followed in his father’s footsteps, Scott would have been a city worker. Instead, he found his calling. His family was ever-supportive, encouraging him to always follow his dreams, though working class people, through and through.
“My folks pushed it and my Mom pushed it and pushed it…which was very rare in my neighborhood.” it is true that working class people tend to be practical-minded, but his family was behind him one hundred percent.
For most kids growing up in his area, telling their parents they wanted to be a painter might result in the following response: ‘You want to be an artist? You want to be a painter? The…garage is peeling. Get out there and paint the garage! Then you’re going to take the sanitation test. You’re going to go to school to be a lawyer.” Scott has had many jobs. He “had every job imaginable…I like to get dirty…I like hard work…”
He attended Public School 48, in Dongan Hills, then went to Dreyfus Intermediate School 49 in Park Hill, just beyond the sprawling mile-long housing project made notorious by the Wu Tang Clan. His parents sent him there, instead of the local junior high school Egbert Intermediate in Midland Beach, because they wanted him and his siblings to meet people outside their own background, providing a real-life lesson in diversity. “I’m the least racist, homophobic person you’ll ever meet.”
Scott later attended New Dorp High School, which was at the time sited in the buildings which now house Staten Island Technical High School, on Clawson Street in New Dorp.
He was briefly married and worked as a graphic designer creating ads at a local shop, back when computer design was still new. While he states that a few projects he did were interesting, it was not enough, his calling to be an artist was more compelling than the call to work as a commercial artist, despite its guaranteed pay and health benefits. It all started in the 1980s. Kids used to wear denim jackets with custom-painted band logos and imagery.
Mr. LoBaido explains: “Back in the 80s…junior high school, and high school…when dungaree jackets were popular… and people were painting bands..their favorite bands…you know Rush and uhh, the Beatles..all those 80s bands…that’s when I first started making money. Someone would be me their dungaree jacket and I would paint one of their favorite bands on it…from there…I started doing canvasses..that’s how it all started.”
His first activist art piece was done during the first Gulf War in 1990. A billboard with the cartoonish image of an American flag and Saddam Hussein’s severed head held by a muscular arm and the words, “Get the job done and get home safely.” Scott knew the man who owned the billboards and was granted permission, and paid very little for the ad space.
“I saw political-correctness rear its ugly head…I was kind of like Paul Revere…because here we are now…and political correctness is out of…control…it’s wrong…you hate America…you hate the veterans…I went out there and I would fight with my artwork.” This was Scott LoBaido’s first artistic social experiment.
Another social consciousness activism work early in Scott’s career was advocating for the rights of a Black man accused of murdering two White children, a three year old toddler and his fourteen-month-old little brother, by the children’s own mother. (She had falsely claimed her sons were kidnapped during a carjacking. She is currently serving life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.) So don’t go claiming Scott is any kind of racist. He is fair, and will stand up for others, regardless of their race.
Scott loved horror movies, growing up. His first passion with art was painting dragons and monsters. Now, he mostly watches the news and likes learning while viewing. But he has an issue with reality shows. “I have a problem with the History Channel…I want to learn about space…I want to learn about nature…Great. The guy’s the antique picker. I like antiques. [But] I want to learn! History! History! I want to learn history.”
Scott is also “man enough to admit” that he watches The Bachelor “because there’s thirty gorgeous girls…in bikinis!” He also loves Larry David (“such a creative genius”) and Jerry Seinfeld, and still watches new episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm each week on Sunday evenings. Even so, there is no TV in his studio.
On religion, Mr. LoBaido had this to say: “My grandmothers were extremely religious…my parents, not so much…not so much, and…we all have our own…personal thing…I have my own relationship with God…and it;’s wonderful…but it’s my own way…I get criticized…’You should go to church.’ I’m a[n]…artist…GOD gave me this unbelievable talent…I tell people…GOD gave me this unbelievable talent…unbelievable talent…nobody taught me how to do this…it was a gift from GOD….When I do speeches, I tell people ‘GOD gave me this talent…my parents molded it…and them men and women in the armed forces allow me to use it.”
Scott would not comment on what might make a “good Catholic” in his eyes, or how this might differ from other people’s ideas: “I’m not going to answer…because that’s judgmental..and I’m not going to judge anybody.”
Unquestionably a skilled and ever-creative professional artist, a skilled painter and sculptor, Scott LoBaido has, nevertheless, been shunned by the Manhattanites at the center of the art world. Galleries and museums don’t take much of an interest in his work. Could this be because the NYC art scene is Liberal to its core, and Scott’s Patriotism and Conservatism run counter to the prevailing sentiments, and politics get in the way of art?
Likewise, Mr. LoBaido did not like what he saw in the illustrious NYC art galleries: “Patriotism is taboo…and so I went to find myself in the big-city art world..and I found this hatred for the Flag and American icons…everything was taboo…with[in] the creative art world..and that shocked me because we artist have more freedoms..than anybody else in the…world…”
“Therefore I can’t believe..the art community is so anti-Flag…not necessarily anti-American…and walk on the flag in the gallery…you got to step on the flag…I said no! I don;’t want any part of this art world. I just found my…calling…I’m going to bring the Flag back to life…through my art!”
(In fact, Mr. LoBaido is referring to an exhibit showing at the School of the Art Institute in late February, 1989, that lasted two weeks. A 34″ by 57″ flag was on the floor of the gallery in front of a display of photographs of flag-draped coffins of service-members lost in war, and in order to get to the ledger, a guest-book wherein viewers were asked to pen their impressions, one had to step on the American Flag. The exhibit finally closed on March 17, after U.S. Armed forces veterans kept going in and picking the flag up from the floor.)
“I’ve seen the Sistine Chapel. I cried. I’ve seen the statue of David…I snuck under the ropes and I touched it. I flirted eye to eye with the Mona Lisa. I touched the painful brush strokes so Vincent Van Gogh and the chill went in my [hand] and down to my spine. But to this artist, the greatest work of art is the Star Spangled Banner. I didn’t invent it. I;m just here promoting it. Celebrating it. The beauty of it. The genius of it. The humanity that’s in that flag. it’s the greatest work of art.”
According to Mr. LoBaido, he has no single artistic style; his influences are many. His favorite museum is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The artwork of Old Masters is specifically his most treasured, including Garabaggio, Reubens, and Michaelangelo (“who’s the greatest of all time…the guy was sculpting at 17…to carve a piece of marble like that…he is like holy…how is this guy a human being?”
Scott also admires the work of Salvadore Dali (“…[he was] tremendous. More of a performed..he had that…personality…”) and Magritte (“It;’s just so simple and…WTF..that’s what I like about surrealism. You have to figure something out on its own !”)
His single favorite piece is Washington Crossing the Delaware. “It’s epic. Back to being a patriot and how it feels to be…I go there and sit on front of the painting for a few hours..so inspiring…”
Scott LoBaido is completely self-taught. He does, however, credit his elementary school instructors, including his kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Crooks, as well as his intermediate art school teacher, Ms. Arraya (sp?) and his high school fine art teachers Ms. Romano and Mrs. Lonergan, for helping him along the way.
Years later, Ms. Arraya came to his art show in St. George. “I happened to ruin into her son a week before…he said, ‘I’m bringing her to your show.’ She came to the show. It was packed. A thousand people there…it was who-was-who there…I went up to her and gave her a big hug and I just started crying. A lot of us forget about who…you know your teacher…you;’re gone..and then you become someone whether a lawyer or somebody…or an English teacher taught you…it;’s sad we don’t appreciate them…”
He was accepted to the School of Visual Arts (SVA) after high school, but after only two weeks realized learning art the usual way just wasn’t for him, and decided to stop attending classes. He feels that he will continue learning with each new day, forever honing his craft: “I’m always experiencing and training and learning…”
He lit a cigarette and took only a drag or two, holding it in his hand, and finally extinguishing it, then lighting another, as he spoke, a halo of smoke now visible, now gone, forming around his head. He moves his hands when he speaks, but in no ordinary way: Fast and furious, his hands weave invisible intricate patterns in the air, as though painting the ethers. A casual observer might rightly wonder what secret energy his hands possessed. He is left handed, but his hands move in unison as they trace unseen figures all around, moving together like his hands are dancing with one another.
Scott LoBaido does not mince words about his smoking. While he did advocate for smokers’ rights during the Bloomberg city administration, he acknowledges, “You know, people got smarter, it is bad for you, we all know that. It says it right on the f*****g box….that’s my f*****g choice. This is Americaaaa. Did the culture learn? A lot less people smoke…because… it’s a loaded gun. I understand. So, I work with the changing atmosphere. You know, it’s not like I fought it, you know f*** you, we smoke, we have rights…”
Scott got up, paced around, yelled and cursed, wistfully remembered his Grandmother and elementary school teachers, and at times spoke so passionately he had tears in his eyes. He holds back no emotion, and none of his thoughts. Through all this, he is considerate and refrains from judging others. Many contrasts, brought together in one person, not vying for dominance, but working together toward worthy goals.
Scott spoke both poetically and comedically, alternating between pure humor and deadly seriousness. He only wishes to provoke in his listener, a response of thought, a response of feeling, and a zest for life that is unmistakable. A gratitude for what we have. Here in America. Here in ourselves. Like he has. His function as a visual and performance artist is to inspire us to think, then to act. But only with passion. Passion so deep and true, it’s undeniable.
He considers himself a messenger, above all else. He, quite rightly, sees himself as the voice of the workingman, every Staten Islander who would love to post on Facebook venting because of this or that perceived injustice, but just can’t because they might lose their job. In fact, the world has gone that direction.
Scott LoBaido envisions himself as an activist for the members of the FDNY and NYPD men and women who risk their lives for us each day, just to keep peace in this hectic and chaotic city. He knows city workers are kept on a very short leash; saying in public, or typing online, the “wrong” thing, can cost a family their breadwinner’s job.
Mr. LoBaido wants us to be like him. He doesn’t mean sharing his political views. He doesn’t mean renaming ourselves Scott or trying to imitate him! What he does mean, is being real and true to ourselves, our fellow citizens, our Nation, and our world. Scott wants us to cherish our Freedoms as U.S. citizens (and anyone else here); he wants us to appreciate all we have.
And most of all, he wants us to never forget about those who served in the U.S. Military branches, those who gave their all, sometimes a leg, sometimes both legs and both arms, so that we can be free to talk, to bicker, to express ourselves as only each of us can, as unique expressions of individual Souls the universe will never see again.
Is Scott an emotionally disturbed person, as he had been accused of being in 2001? Almost hauled off for being an “EDP” after protesting at the Brooklyn Museum. “Am I emotionally disturbed? No. Am I a little off the f*****g wall? Uhhm, yeah. I seem that way because I don’t hold back. I’m an artist. An Italian artist. A Sicilian Italian artist.”
Chris Ofili’s piece entitled, The Holy Virgin Mary, was part of a show called “Young British Artists” at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. The painting, depicting a Black Madonna, perhaps an unconventional visage for this religious figure, though not at all offensive, did offend many Catholics, as well as former mayor Rudy Giuliani, as it also featured a lump of elephant dung as Mary’s bared breast, and two more supporting the painting’s canvas.
Besides this, many religious folks also had strong issue with the salacious female genital photos surrounding the Virgin cut-out from porn mags, shaped to evoke images of butterflies or possibly cherubic putti, those ‘baby angels” we’re all so familiar with. However, putti are traditionally depicted as exclusively male, while these cut-and-pasted pictures were of female genitalia forms.
According to the Museum of Modern Art’s website, where the piece is now permanently on display (courtesy of Steve Cohen, a prolific art collector and hedge fund manager), the medium was acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins, and elephant dung on canvas. Other works of Ofili’s also feature elephant dung.
The artist described his work thusly, “When I go to the National Gallery and see paintings of the Virgin Mary, I see how sexually charged they are. Mine is simply a hip-hop version.”
Does this have anything to do with late 1970s and early 1980s NYC hip-hop street culture of “breaking” (break dancing, “writing” (graffiti), rapping and “spinning” and sampling (records, as in Djing), which brought together Black, Latino, Asian, and White youths, banding together under a shared banner of creativity and self-expression in new forms?
A valid question. True, hip-hop, a style and art form adopted and shared by kids of all colors throughout the five borough and beyond, has become a worldwide phenomenon.
And it’s also true that Ronald “Bee-Stinger” Savage, once down with the Zulu Nation (the breakdancing crew best known way back when for its black or black and white beads), further delineated “Six elements of the Hip Hop Movement”: Consciousness Awareness, Civil Rights Awareness, Activism Awareness, Justice, Political Awareness, and Community Awareness in music.
Is this piece done in the tradition of hip-hop, truly?
Ofili is not from Africa or any other locale where elephants, and thus elephant dung, is a part of “street culture” and everyday life (though he did travel on a scholarship to Zimbabwe in 1992 and his father is native to Nigeria). Further, one can debate his interpretation of a “sexually charged” Madonna and argue he is misinterpreting sensuality as sexuality. There is, in fact, quite a difference.
But Scott’s issue with this piece being displayed in Brooklyn lied elsewhere. He doesn’t even care to ask these various valid questions, even now.
Mr. LoBaido repeatedly protested the Brooklyn Museum, not because he had issue with artwork disparaging of Christian imagery that was on display, as is commonly thought. He feels all artists should have the right to create and share such pieces, under our Constitutional First Amendment protections. While he, personally, is “not crazy” about such artwork, to use his own words, he feels that wasn’t his motivation.
However, he strongly believes artwork that singles out and disparages only one faith should not be in a public museum funded with public money. Instead, such pieces belong in private galleries, he explained.
Was then, Scott’s activist art more in line with hip-hop’s core values than Olfini’s painting, a culture where all are invited to “come correct” and be respectful or “get served”? Recall that many Hispanic Catholic people, even Black Christians, were also offended and Mr. LoBaido spoke for them all with his art activism; this was not a “Black and White” issue. This was not about a Black Madonna.
Rather than “going over” or “toying” Olfini’s piece, Scott did the honorable thing and respected the art and artisit, and placed the question of propriety squarely at the feet of the museum. Do the tenets of hip-hop support this? Of course, good art provokes us to think, question, and learn.
In fact, it was a 72-year-old retired Manhattan schoolteacher who, after three months of the painting being exhibited, smeared paint over the image, trouncing it as “blasphemous.” Was a true religious symbol being defaced in this act, or a parodied horrow-show of one? Some New Yorkers felt justice was served in this deliberate act of vandalism. But not all.
A quick Internet Search reveals that both unconventional, deliberately shocking depicts of the Virgin Mary exist, as well as instances of defacement of traditional depictions. (Click HERE, HERE and HERE)
“All the artists in the city were fighting for that painting to be exhibited in the Brooklyn Museum. I was the only one fighting against it It wasn’t the artist or his work…if that was in a private gallery…and there was this uproar from the Mayor and Conservative…I would fight for the artist’s right to display his art. But it wasn’t.”
“It was in a…publicly funded institution. The same people that scream bloody…murder because there a Nativity Scene in a little public park [They say,] ‘Separation of church and state'” Same..thing. You can’t promote a single religion with public funds, therefore you cannot degrade a single religion with public funds. And, it’s always Christianity. Never Judaism. Never the Muslim…never! This was unconstitutional.”
“What is horse manure?…It’s smelly, wet grass! I opened up my briefcase, I had the press there. I said, ‘This is my medium that I shall use to create.’ and I pointed to the facade of the Brooklyn museum and I said, ‘Here is my canvas.’
“I just started flinging handfuls of wet grass, horse manure…and I got arrested…and I went into that jail cell with the biggest…grin on my face because I knew I did the right thing…”
“You got that [tax] money from my Grandmother who worked her ass off…and she’s a religious woman. You’re going to put it in a private gallery? She don’t care, she don’t want to see it, she’s fine. But when you put it in her face and say…thanks for the money…Rosalyn, here’s your Virgin Mary with S**t all over…”
“…I used art to fight for those people…”
His artwork is epic: Criss-crossing the country three times to paint outdoor American Flag murals in every state. Painting the world’s largest American Flag mural. And doing so, sometimes against great odds, like tornadoes looming on the horizon after an area had just been leveled by one, or trying not to slip on wet paint and fall off a high roof and break his neck. Mr. LoBaido lives with excitement and joy. He is truly alive, and hopes we can find the courage in ourselves to be alive, too.
Mr LoBaido is a native Staten Islander. Fourth generation. His family hails from the Italian autonomous region known as Sicily, best known for Arancini di Riso, its scrumptious rice balls, and i cannoli, those egg-roll-looking pastries filled with sweet ricotta, an island like his family’s present-day home town, Staten Island.
His ancestors also come from Northern Italy, specifically Genoa, center to the 17th Century Renaissance Art Movement known as the Genoese School, its most famous painters being Bernardo Strozzi, known as il Cappuccino, Giovanni Castiglione, called Il Grecchetto, with decorators Domenico Piola and Gregorio de Ferrari best known for their visual contribution to the palaces and churches of Genoa.
Scoot did not speak Italian growing up, though his grandparents spoke fluently. “We never [learned a second] language…[We] didn’t…because they wanted us to be American…”
While Scott was “…always an artist…going out in the woods piling rocks…carving things.” He was also, “…always a performer…” He loved magic and this was something he thought about doing when he grew up, when he was very young. In fact, his path of becoming a visual and performance artist builds on his natural propensities and interests.
Scott LoBaido is unmistakably from Staten Island, with an accent few people outside our portion of the country can even understand. “To them, I’m speaking jib-jab…a lot of people have never met an Italian from New York…” Fortunately, we interviewers are also lifelong Staten Islanders, so our conversation, while lively and interesting, might be difficult to decode for all but those living on this sixty-square mile piece of land. Mumbly-speak? Yes. But it’s our mumbly-speak, and we love it and don’t put on airs.
When traveling around the U.S. painting outdoor American Flag murals, Scott encounters many American sub-cultures. He feels strongly that humor is the best way we can all deal with one’s another’s unfamiliar cultures and backgrounds. “…and who calls me Cousin Vinny? Rednecks down there…they just rip the s**t out of me, and we open up that floodgate, and I’m like ‘You rednecks, what are you eating down there, possum? But it’s love!'”
This contrasts sharply with comic Hari Kondabolu ideas expressed in his documentary, The Problem With Apu, detailing his feelings about Matt Groening’s longest-running TV show, the cartoon we all know called The Simpsons. (LINK) Mr. LoBaido feels political correctness is a creeping hazard to us all.
“When two people agree and have a communication…you can call me a…greaseball from Staten Island and I’ll call you a …trailer park redneck..but we’re buddies, know what I mean?”
Scott grew up playing in the vast woodlands that once covered Staten Island. Is he bitter about change? Not a bit. However, Mr. LoBaido does hate traffic. Exceedingly. (“[It’s] a nightmare…when you get in your car…you want scream and your veins pop out in your neck…”) His “mother was mother nature” and he looks back on a boyhood filled with hours and hours spent playing in the woods beneath the canopy of trees, among the honeysuckle and mugwort stands, living free roaming the hills and vales of Our Island.
He feels kids today are too sheltered, spend too much time in front of the computer or on their cell phone. “Technology’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also a curse because everybody’s inside. You want to see nature? Go online…There was just something about being outside…What moves me, makes my day, now…is when I see kids playing…we learned about life that way…”
“Kids on bikes without helmets…they’re going to fall off their bike…like I did…so I’m prepared for the future….kids have to get dirty…they have to get cut…otherwise they’re not prepared in the future…it’s too much smothering…but maybe I’m spoiled [because] my parents trusted us…we learned about life that way…”
What about the term “snowflake?” What does this mean to Mr. LoBaido? “The insanity of political correctness…of intolerance being preached by those who want tolerance. That to me is a snowflake. Someone who is easily offended.”
Scott sees the value in living and experiencing life first-hand, rather than vicariously behind a screen: “I was a barfly…my father opened up this little bar back in the 80s and..I bar-tended and I met people. Grungy people. Successful people. In a bar. I met girls. In a bar! These young kids, they’re online ‘I met these girls.’ Where? ‘Online.’ That’s a 365 pound Chinese guy!”
“…That’s not that picture you see….If a genie popper out of his bottle and said Scott, you could be any age you want…I don’t want to go back. I had the perfect life. I went from no computer, no technology, and into it. I use the technology. But I also get…out and get dirty.”
Make no mistake, Scott loves Staten Island. And the U.S. And, of course, his Sicilian and Italian heritage. “As I travel the country people ask me what Staten Island is like and I’m like, ‘It’s just like your little town here in Cody, Wyoming. It’s the working-class people, that’s why we stand out.'”
A fourth-generation Staten Islander from Dongan Hills Colony, as it was once called, Scott was born April 6, 1965 in St. Vincent’s Hospital in West Brighton. (“[Dongan Hills Colony] was just a hill with a farm and one or two houses…now it’s…tremendous mansions up there…”)
Along with videos, a complete audio recording of the interview will be forthcoming. If you recognize value and worth, you’ll be impatiently waiting for each new installment in the series, as Mr. LoBaido is finally allowed to speak from his mind, from his heart, without (intentionally or otherwise) anyone taking his words and maiming and twisting them. This is Scott LoBaido in his own words. Unadulterated. Without an agenda to turn him into a plastic image for someone else’s nefarious and sinister ends, not used as a human prop to further a position.
We will certainly claim that this is the best interview we’ve yet seen with Mr. LoBaido. By the end, if you’re not moved to tears, calling your long-lost cousin who is a devout (Trump fan/Trump hater) while you are a pretty extreme (Liberal/Conservative) yourself, shock would be the emotion that would best fit the situation. You might even be moved enough to consider purchasing a print of one of his works. Who knows.
We warn you, Mr. LoBaido is animated, sometimes he curses a lot, but the wisdom he shares is something even adolescents should share in. Parents, it’s your choice whether to let your kids read the transcript, listen to the sound recordings, or see the interviews, but if you don’t permit this, consider what you’re hiding from them. It’s far more than politics. Even if you’re not a Republican and cant stand Conservatives, this series is something you and your children should soak up and ponder at length, maybe discuss over dinner.
Scott’s an artist, first. His passion lies in in his expressive creativity. He has chosen, in his life, to focus that extreme creativity on primarily (but not exclusively) one subject matter, for the most part: The American Flag. This symbol of our Nation’s Values. The symbol of Our Life here in America as free citizens, people who never took crap from anybody, who worked hard toward their individual goals, and never judged or compared themselves to others. People who always accepted the outsider.
A people as expressive as could be imagined, people who mind their own business, and lend other Americans (people and even dogs and animals, according to Scott) a helping hand of their own, placing our hand on theirs, or their own paw or talon, as the case may be.
What is patriotism to Scott? Thanking a vet. And, meaning it. “Not just waving the flag,” he explains. Helping one another when we can. And of course, being yourself, not a follower. Working hard.
His Mother’s best advice, “Son..do whatever you want in life. As long as you believe in your hearty and take care of those people and animals less fortunate than you…”
His Father’s advice? “Son, take s**t from NOBODY!” Scott’s interpretation of this was to stand up for his community. He feels the viewpoints of his parents complement one another, and that he was raised with a sense of balance.
The American Flag, and Scott’s appreciation for it, might rouse in yourself a deep appreciation of the United States, and what makes our country great. (Or maybe an appreciation of your own country, if you’re not American, and what makes your own continent, nation, or heritage unique.)
Who’s better? Who’s comparing! We all hail from different places, have different religions, different cultures. But as Mr. LoBaido points out, America is the place where we all come together, under One Flag, as One People, living the dream, as best we can, each in our own way. That is the American Dream; it’s a far cry from what people make it these days, focusing only on monetary success.
Like any wise person, Scott sees the value of diversity, of both Liberal and Conservative viewpoints, of individuality. We can all learn from one another. If we undertake this monumentous task, we will be living the Vision of Our Forefathers, and We the People of America will be victorious over our enemies seeking to divide us and keep us squabbling; we will win the day, and perhaps the struggle. Who are these enemies, one would wonder?
As strange as it sounds, recall the difficulty in bringing this material to you. (OK, maybe delivering the Death Star plans to Princess Leia took far more effort, but then, that was only a movie.) Perhaps there really is a Devil. If so, it seems he really doesn’t want Scott’s voice to be heard.
Just think of what might happen: We may learn something that might snap us out of our collective stupor, and propel us into spaces where we are in full control of our destiny, as individuals, as Americans, as people of the world. No, if there truly was a Devil, he just couldn’t have that. It would be unthinkable.
Scott LoBaido, as a visionary artist and social activist, is far more than dead terms like “Left” or “Right”, “Trump Lover” or “Trump Hater.” (But then, aren’t we all?) Perhaps you could call him a Progressive Conservative, a seeming contradiction, but not really. The Classical Liberal ideas of equality and freedom are recurring themes in Mr. LoBaido’s thinking. Maybe a more fitting term would be an Anarchistic Conservative?
Or, just a man who cares about his community and acts, instead of just sitting and complaining and talking to no end, like most of us. Protest is a decidedly American institution; recall the Boston Tea Party and much of our relatively young nation’s history. Social action is part and parcel of who we are.
However you want to boil it down to its essence, there’s no denying he’s a voting Republican and supports President Trump with his entire being. At the same time, Scott feels it’s a sad day when friends and family shun one another over political views. While his girlfriend is a liberal and avid Trump-trouncer, in his eyes that’s secondary. And so it is with everyone in his life, people first, politics second.
Think of LoBaido’s new “Triumph” shirt design: The letters “I” and “H” are a slightly different hue, creating a covert pro-Trump shirt that also carries a victorious message to Americans. Triumph over what? Our lesser nature, our selfishness, our ignoring our neighbor’s plight. Ultimately, our Triumph over darkness. This is, perhaps, the most clever and interesting pro-Trump shirt to be found, and even linguists might chuckle at the subtle wit involved. And, it’s a cool design and looks good. Win. Win.
Then there’s Scott’s latest foray into the public eye, his creation of signs residents held near up for passing motorists to see near speed cameras so that the rest of the community might become aware of these hidden speed traps and cash cows operated by the city. It’s near impossible to hide a real cow, but place a speed trap behind a tree or utility pole and there’s yet another city cash cow concealed. Why does Scott care? He doesn’t want Staten Islanders to be unfairly targeted for fleecing, plus he feels they don’t accomplish their stated goal.
Maybe you’ve heard all about Mr. LoBaido’s numerous arrests, or how he threw horse manure at the wall of the Brooklyn Museum. We were all told this was just a publicity stunt, something rash and illogical and vulgar done by someone just seeking attention, craving the limelight. We were told that Scott did this for himself, so that he might become the focus. “He can’t get his art in there because it’s not good enough, so he attacks it.” Remember hearing that one?
Well, it’s lies. All lies. Would you believe it’s really because he was advocating for the protected separation between church and state, all the while defending his family’s faith? It’s ironic, but true. Fighting for the Constitutional bounds on faith, and at the same time defending religion. Amazing. That’s something even the most die-hard Liberal can get behind.
What about the flags? What’s his story? Some media reporters chuckle and shake their heads at Scott and paint him as a doofus egomaniac, wrapping himself in the flag only to get in the news. By now, you should be getting the picture. Don’t be fooled. The flags weren’t about honoring Scott LoBaido. It was all about honoring America, our values and our veterans.
Need I say more? Mr. LoBaido showed us all how it should be done, bringing his show on the road and traveling across the vastness of the United States painting flags, acting on his beliefs, rather than just idly talking and talking endlessly.
He even hitched aboard a freight-liner that crossed the Pacific to Hawaii to get over the islands to paint flags. First class? Not even close; this was traveling cargo-class, in the unattractive, diesel-smelling belly of a gigantic vessel, a ship weighed down by thousands of shipping containers. While on the ship, he even painted a flag in the mess hall. Does this sound like the stuff that epic films are made of?
His activism getting involved with Veterans’ suicides? Scott appreciates everything every vet has ever done, keeping us going so he can have the Freedom to create and be an artist, living his life on his own terms.
“Don’t respect the war, respect the men and women [who serve]…” He had scrawled the number “22” on his palm in indelible marker; it’s to remind him each day of veterans lost to the world, the 22 Honorable men and women who take their own lives each day after returning from wars none of them ever started, but went and fought, anyway.
Why? Because they believed in our way of life. Because they believed in America. Black. White. Mexican. Greek. Italian. You name it. Different cultures, different styles, yet a shared vision of the United States as a place where freedom reigns.
Let’s leave off with Mother Cabrini, the LoBaido family patron saint, an educator and healer whose love and prayers were said to heal his great-grandmother of consumption now decades and decades ago.
Mr. LoBaido created a small-scale sculpture of his proposal for the statue approved by Governor Cuomo, after New Yorkers were rebuffed by Mayor DeBlasio after Mother Cabrini received the most votes for an influential New York woman residents would like to see memorialized, but was passed over. He hopes to win the nomination to create the artwork, but realizes his notoriety and reputation might keep this from becoming a reality. Still, he is undeterred.
During the COVID-19 Crisis, Scott also contributed his time and talent to help send a message of love and appreciation to those frontline workers helping to ensure that Staten Island keeps moving forward, those taking care of people who have fallen victim to the virus, as well as others working under hazardous conditions keeping us all safe.
No matter what Scott turns his attention to, you can be sure he’s giving it his all. His sincerity shines through his words and deeds, and his creative streak, so multifaceted and unique, is plainly obvious in everything he does. His life is lived with Purpose, and he beckons you, as Americans, as people, to do the same. Divisiveness and hate? Scott feels there’s no time. We’re all here to experience life, be our best, and honor Our Shared American Values, and our shared American scene of peoples from all nations.