Scornavacca Documentary Pays Tribute to Influential Coconut Grove Artist

The artist at work.
When Tony Scornavacca died in 1986 of lung cancer at the age of 59, the Coconut Grove of yesteryear went with him.

That's the premise of Scornavacca, a 45-minute documentary directed and produced by J. Brian King, which aims to make sure that the quirky artist is not forgotten.

The film screened for the first time at the Paragon Theatre in Coconut Grove last night to a select audience. Representatives from PBS and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival (which Scornavacca helped launch in 1963) are now talking to King about showing Scornavacca to a wider audience.

A Scornavacca self-portrait.
The film showcases Scornavacca's wide array of paintings and drawings as his friends and children tell stories about the native New Yorker. Inspired by Van Gogh, Scornavacca walked away from a potentially lucrative career as a graphic artist to pursue the bohemian lifestyle of the Grove in 1950. The interviews paint the picture of a jolly family man who loved to joke and party but also had an explosive temper and a drinking problem.

Some of the tales in the movie include:

  • The time Scornavacca was invited to attend a Luciano Pavarotti concert after the artist painted a portrait of the famed opera singer. Scornavacca snuck out to smoke a cigarette when the performance started then tussled with ushers who tried to prevent him from re-entering.
  • His tendency to work all night while drinking Early Times whiskey in his studio.
  • How he constantly had to move his art gallery because landlords kept raising the rent on him. Apparently Scornavacca's art was such a draw that it would increase property values.

So intense was Scornavacca's disdain for art galleries that today his work is found only in private collections, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College.

A longtime Grove resident, King met Scornavacca only a few times when he was alive. "He was just hanging out, trying to sell his work," King says. "I only got to know him personally when he was dead."

Among those who pestered King to make the movie was Scornavacca's daughter Laura. "He was thinking about doing it a few years ago and then he dropped the ball," she says of King. "When I moved back from L.A., I lit a fire under his ass."

King is glad she did. He considers Scornavacca an important part of Grove history, back when the area was a small artist community that attracted the likes of musicians such as Jimmy Buffett, The Eagles, and Fred Neil. "He was the old Grove," King says.

--Erik Bojnansky

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Location Info


Cinepolis Coconut Grove

3015 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove, FL

Category: Film

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My father has a Scornavacca that he has had since the 60's and would like to know the value of it.  Can anyone recommend someone to value the piece?

Rachelle revak mensinger
Rachelle revak mensinger

miss those days they were  great born and raised coconut grove there will never be another

Eileen Rule
Eileen Rule

i thought the article depicted Scornavacca very well, he was gifted in his art, was fun to be around, & could cook & sing at the same time, LoL ,  another talent he had as i recall when i visited the Scornavacca family.  good going Laura scornavacca.

Eileen Rule
Eileen Rule

your article depicts Scornavacca very well. he was fun to be around, & he could cook & sing at the same timme LoL.! , another one of his many talents.  Thanks Laura for lighting that fire.

Kim Masaitis
Kim Masaitis

Tony was my Uncle. Although I didn't know him that well, as he was in Fl and I in Oh. I know his family loved him dearly and misses him very much. What a great artist...taken too soon.

J. Brian King
J. Brian King

Great story about a true legend. An insider's view of his very personal works and stories from his own siblings. Thanks for attending the premier- J. Brian King,

Robbie Mac
Robbie Mac

Where and when will this film be shown again...? Tony defined the "old" Grove, he was part of the wheel that made the Grove go 'round... I miss those days. Tony and his family lived in the North Grove, my grandmother lived a couple blocks away and I was friends with Tony, jr. We would sometimes hang out with Tony as he dispensed his pearls of wisdom on life in general. I thought it was cool that he would allow us to partake in these discussions with him, we were 14 or 15 years old(1973) and he opened our eyes to what the world was really like. Tony told it like it was and I appreciated the fact that he didn't treat us like "kids," but more like adults in our talks. The Grove was a much simpler place back then, everybody knew each other and it had much more of a small town/village feel. It all changed by the late 1970's, "progress," as they call it reared it's ugly head and made the Grove unrecognizable to the natives... God bless you, Tony, up there in Heaven painting your masterpiece...

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