Painting a Better World

An Interview with William Scott

by , February 2024
William Scott Untitled 1998
William Scott, Untitled, 1998; purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

For Bay Area artist William Scott, painting is a pathway to imagining a better world, a utopian version of San Francisco that he calls “Praise Frisco.” He maps plans for urban redevelopment, envisioning not only renewed buildings and clean streets, but also citizens reborn as happier, healthier, and younger. Scott, who grew up in Bayview-Hunters Point, has a vision for the city’s future that transforms reality through thousands of paintings and drawings full of what he describes as “wholesome encounters with wholesome people.”

In his “another life” self-portraits, Scott depicts himself as “Billy the Kid,” a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1970s. In his paintings of spaceships and UFOs, Scott shows those who have died from gun violence and drugs being transported back to earth as prosperous citizens with better lives. And in his “citizen girlfriend” portraits, Scott paints Queen Latifah, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and other celebrities he calls “good divas.” For over thirty years, Scott has developed his art practice at Creative Growth Art Center, an Oakland-based nonprofit that serves artists with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities by providing a supportive studio environment and gallery representation.

Several of Scott’s works will be on view in SFMOMA’s upcoming exhibition Creative Growth: The House That Art Built. Meanwhile, a second exhibition will present a large-scale William Scott painting commissioned by the museum for the Bay Area Walls series, which launched in 2021 and spotlights local artists responding to the pressing issues of our time. The monumental composition focuses on positive transformation and spiritual prosperity not only for the city, but also for ourselves.

Scott recently spoke with us about his dreams for San Francisco and his art.

SFMOMA: Rebirth and transformation are major themes throughout your artistic practice, along with imagining a better world. Tell us about your idea of the Skyline Friendly Organization (SFO) and Wholesome Close Encounter (WCE) people who promote peace on earth.

William Scott: SFO is the name of the skyline people who bring dozens of people who lost their lives to gun violence, killings, and hit-and-run drivers back to life. We need SFOs and wholesome encounters replacing the aliens, replacing the evils, replacing the monsters, replacing the scary stuff, horror stuff.

William Scott Untitled 2021
William Scott, Untitled, 2021; purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

In the inner skyline space, wholesome close encounters with wholesome people come to this earth. This is serious. In the 2030s, murderers like Brendan Dassey do not exist, do not come around to do the killings. Wholesome encounters will be fixing up the world as peace. To be replacing the terrible, bad world and fixing the good world as good peace.

SFMOMA: It sounds like you’re an architect, envisioning a utopian “Praise Frisco” version of San Francisco that’s populated by flourishing people. Say more about your vision for San Francisco.

WS: San Francisco needs to be changed by 2030. Original San Francisco has too much violence, too many bad places. Praise Frisco is a good city. It’s a good world: a Peace Headquarters replacing the original San Francisco and replacing the war on earth. Replacing the original buildings, replacing the skyline, and rebuilding the city as high-rise balconies.

William Scott Praise Frisco Image
William Scott, Untitled, ND; purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

Fox Plaza will be taken down and replaced with Fox Civic Plaza, a high-rise with a new design with a penthouse on top for the good people of the good world. San Francisco’s Bank of America building will also be taken down and turned into a high-rise penthouse with a balcony on 555 California Street. The Salesforce Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid will be staying up, and there will be high-rise penthouse skyscrapers with balconies like the ones in Hawaii. The twin towers of the World Trade Center will be the headquarters of Praise Frisco. In the 2030s, 2040s, and 2050s, people will live on balcony high-rises in the Martin Luther King Towers, where they’ll have a view of the world. On Third Street, we’re going to to bring back Zim’s Restaurant and Denny’s as healthy restaurants and have cultural centers. We’ll rename the city Praise Frisco. And Praise Frisco will be a good place to live, the best place to live. No bad people, no crimes, no killings, no homelessness.

William Scott Untitled ND
William Scott, Untitled, ND; purchase, by exchange, through a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Honig

SFMOMA: In your paintings, you often travel back to your childhood, depicting yourself in the 1970s as “Billy the Kid.” When you revisit your childhood and the 1970s, what do you see?

WS: I will be a basketball kid, “Billy the Kid,” reborn as an Afro Sheen kid in 1974 in another life with my mom. I will be on the basketball team in Bayview-Hunters Point. Disney World will be in Bayview-Hunters Point, and there will be low-rise, low-income housing designed by the architects of the 2030s with good people. Hunters Point Shipyard hotels will be in Bayview-Hunters Point with a new, high-rise look. There will be good people everywhere — good people living in the Pebble Rock housing projects and in gospel and church houses. Praise Frisco is the name of this new city, and I will be a basketball player.

SFMOMA: What place do you love most in San Francisco?

WS: My favorite place is Bayview-Hunters Point, which is going to be rebuilt in Praise Frisco and have a Disney World, a Hollywood, and a Bahamas. And we’re going to have tons of nationalities represented and good people everywhere.

SFMOMA: Tell us about your work William Scott Reborn as Afrosheen Kid, 1974, which is part of SFMOMA’s collection.

WS: William Scott Reborn as Afrosheen Kid shows my mom and me in an Afro Sheen commercial on the TV show Soul Train with Don Cornelius. The work is in another life in 1974, where I take a trip to Hollywood on an airplane and am with my mom on Soul Train. In 1974, I will be a professional basketball player with a big round afro. I will be seven years old again and a Lakers basketball star with no disabilities, no mental health issues. I will also have a car and learn how to drive.

William Scott William Scott Reborn as Afrosheen Kid 1974
William Scott, William Scott Reborn as Afrosheen Kid, 1974, 2016; gift of Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, © William Scott

My mom will be a healthier, younger mom with no arthritis, no back pain, and no cane. She’ll be living longer in this life until another life comes. And me, I’m going to be a basketball kid and a bodybuilder, lifting weights, going to the gym, and building up my muscles. I’ll go to the gym on Third Street and weight train with my brother Terry. Wow.

SFMOMA: Who are some of the celebrities you have painted?

WS: I did paintings of Diana Ross in the nineties. I painted Halle Berry, I painted En Vogue. That’s a good diva, a good diva.

SFMOMA: You’ve been a part of Creative Growth since 1992. What do you like about it?

WS: I like to work at Creative Growth to be a good artist, to stay good, to stay nice, to be nice to people at Creative Growth. That’s very important. To stay at Creative Growth is very important because I love Praise Frisco and the future of the high rises with balconies. I will love it when high rises come.

Bay Area Walls: William Scott is on view from April 6 through October 6, 2024, on Floor 2.

Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris

Caroline Harris is an assistant editor at SFMOMA, where she writes and edits content for the museum’s print and digital communications. A Bay Area native, Caroline is passionate about writing and majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania. When she’s not reading or writing, Caroline enjoys running, hiking, skiing, and exploring San Francisco.
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