People across the region are calling Scott “Rupe” Dalton, who died Sunday at the age of 55, a modern-day renaissance man.
He was a barber and comedian and, most famously, an artist.
The Axton resident perfected the art of airbrush painting, using a medium meant for painting vehicles to create intricate details on portraits and scenes.
“Scott Dalton breaks the stereotype often associated with airbrush art,” said sketch and film artist Myron Smith. “His meticulous attention to detail and choice of powerful subject matter has without a doubt opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities of what an airbrush painting can be.”
His fan base was wide and varied, ranging from wealthy art collectors to the average Joe who may never own another original painting than one with the signature “Rupe.”
Dalton racked up what may have been a record number of top awards at Piedmont Arts’ “Expressions” exhibits over a few years’ time before he took a break from entering about 10 years ago.
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In the fall, he sold batches of his paintings in an informal auction over Facebook. He told the Bulletin at the time that he was raising money to invest in high quality reprints of his work.
In fact, he promised the Bulletin an article on that once it had taken off. Now it’s too late.
A prediction of Dalton’s future was made when he was a student at Drewry Mason High School where, Catherine Webber Rodenbough recalled, he was named “most talented boy” in senior superlatives in 1985.
He had been drawing since childhood, Dalton told the Bulletin in a 2008 interview.
His nickname, “Rupe,” came from that far back, when old folks would call him “Rupid the Stupid” after a fictional character because of the way he’d make people laugh.
Rupe’s love for airbrush was sparked in 1979, watching Jeff Jones work at airbrushing at Jones’ business in the Patrick Henry Mall.
“I was intrigued by it,” Dalton said. “When I got old enough to have money in my pocket, I bought an air brush.”
It was tricky to learn, he said, and he credited his first success to the woman who is now his widow, Marcella Dalton, who had asked him to paint her likeness on a jacket. Throughout the years, he has honored her as being his strongest support, number one fan and most helpful critic.
During his young adult years, he had a brisk trade going with painting designs on T-shirts.
He also “branched out into counterfeit T-shirts,” he admitted in the 2008 interview. He began applying transfers such as “Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and all that” to plain T-shirts, often putting unique spins on them, and selling them in bulk to distributors.
“It was against the law, but it was a craft,” he said. “I’m motivated by anything you create: a landscape, carpentry. I do it until I get burnt out on it.”
When he got busted, “They confiscated 700 dozen” shirts which they hauled away “in 218 trash bags,” he said.
Fortunately, he said, the only consequences were a strong warning — and that enterprise did help him get a financial foothold which allowed him to turn his attention to paintings.
“You’ll starve to death if you jump right out there without savings,” he said.
From cloth to canvas
It was in 2000 that he turned his airbrush from cloth onto canvas — a challenge, he recalled later, because “the paint blows around and doesn’t sink in.”
Many of his early paintings were of older folks in rural areas. “Everything I paint is dealing with my childhood, things I can remember. I’ve always loved stuff older than I am,” he said.
As the years advanced, he branched out into a wide variety of images, including cars and figures from sports and entertainment. He also painted custom portraits.
He aimed for his paintings to look realistic, but not too much so. “I make it look life-like, but still look like a painting, too,” he said in 2008. Earlier, he painted in an even more realistic style, but “had to change my painting because it looked too much like photography,” he said. “People don’t want that. You’ve got to try to paint to please.”
His reputation as an artist grew quickly. By 2010 he had won his third Best in Show for “Harvest End,” and he also had had four People’s Choice Awards and one Best Lynwood Artist since he began entering in 2002.
Dalton stepped back from public exhibits for several years after those years of top awards. “I don’t want to hurt the show” by crowding out other artists from the wins, he had said in 2008. Yet he would return a few times again to Piedmont Arts, including with a solo exhibit of his work at the Lynwood Artists Gallery in 2013.
A funny and wise barber
Dalton also worked as a barber, first for Waller’s Barber Shop in Ridgeway, and in recent years, Heritage Barber Shop.
“Rupe, or Scotty as I called him, embodied what true art is,” said Cameron Moore. “He took pride in his work and each haircut he gave me. … Since I was a teenager, he was a barber and a therapist. The world has become dimmer without his light.”
Barber Abram Brim said Dalton always had been supportive of him, but he never realized how much until someone told him that Dalton had said, “’Abe can cut the hell out some hair.’ Made me feel real good to hear that coming from an OG in the barber game.”
Brim also went to his comedy shows, where he “was hilarious.”
“His comedy was a hit on and off stage,” said Demetrius Kent.
Manni Hayes said Dalton gave him “incredible advice about barbering and life” and had promised to teach him how to air-brush, but now that chance is gone.
Robert Fitzgerald Dalton was Scott Dalton’s cousin, grandchildren of George and Elizabeth Dalton, but they grew up as siblings, he said. “Scotty was such a gifted/talented person: artist, barber, comedian rapper and veterinarian,” he said, “but Scotty’s great talent was the love that he provided to all that knew him.”
‘No doubt in my mind’
Local artists felt his loss.
Looking at “Lament,” depicting a grieving woman in a church pew, pet portrait painter Bettie Bowles said, “I love the way the light touches their face. It is like you can feel the emotion.”
Bowles used to take her son to some of the opening receptions at Piedmont Arts, “and Rupe’s art made an impression on Marshall. Probably the only artist Marshall remembered from the shows.”
Charlie Knighton hung Dalton’s artwork for an exhibit at Piedmont Arts in 2013. “He did not comment on the arrangement besides thanking me,” he said. “He was a true artist trying to make a living.”
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Rupe’s passing,” said Piedmont Arts Director of Exhibitions. “He was a talented and heartfelt artist, whose work spoke volumes about his love for his community, family and his craft. His artistry, jovial personality and community-minded approach to the arts will truly be missed.”
Dalton had a few close calls at big time exposure, but they didn’t come through. He had said that he cut hair at the wedding of Star Jones and Al Reynolds, and he was invited to display his art in his work area. It was beginning to get attention when “Star Jones shut it down. I thought that was going to be my big break.”
He had a near-go with Hollywood after the owner of a sound studio came all the way to Henry County to buy three of Rupe’s paintings. The man later called him “at least 15 times” to come to California, but Dalton didn’t take him up on it. “I wondered if I missed my blessing on that end,” the artist mused later.
Dalton “should have been recognized more wildly,” said Brenda Williams.
“I started thinking that maybe he missed his chance to become famous for his skilled artwork,” said Lori Nowlin, “but then I thought, maybe he was exactly where he wanted to be. He knew he was incredibly talented, but he was not pretentious at all.”
Talking about his art in 2008, Dalton said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that one of these days I’m gonna be sought after.”
He added, though, with a chuckle: “I’ll be dead and gone” by then.