Kenny Scharf "wallworks" mural at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Photo I PtD.
When local street art aficionados read the new bio “Kenny Scharf: In Absence of Myth” by G. James Daichendt, they may wonder if the artist should be headlining the garage under the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas.
That’s where infamous street artists were invited to be part of “Wallworks” in 2011. The installations have an informal hierarchy. The floors that fill up fast, and have more eyes for the elevator entrance where the murals are featured, an appropriately underground location, has Shepard Fairey and Retna adding to their myth.
Their floors are above Scharf's images of animated faces, squiggles, and "Las Vegas" in toonesque letters, a personal style that came from loving animation as a child living in cul-de-sac confines of southern California. Daichendt’s bio on Schraf, released in December 2016, shows how parking level B4 has direct pedigree to long street art history.
The bio reveals the Pop-artist is an original muse to today’s street art. After art school Scharf went to New York where he socially and aesthetically interweaved with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as Daichendt notes. It led to the attitude and language now associated with street art; including sharing pithy critiques of the art world and consumer culture while trying to infiltrate it.
Daichendt follows Scharf through the 90s and brings us to the current decade to remind us that Fairey, Retna, and Scharf teamed on another site; The West Hollywood Library, guided by the city of West Hollywood, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and prompted by MOCA’s "Art in the Streets" in 2011.
“Along with Shepard Fairey and Retna, Kenny was asked to paint on this monstrous surface," Daichendt writes. "Spray painting had always had a big impact in Kenny’s art, and while he never called himself a graffiti artist, he was clearly being written into its history."
Softly Daichendt appends Scharf’s early maverick attitudes to a recovering spirituality, allowing the author to read this artists philosophy with insight of a theologian. Now, that is one heady idea that comes out of this illustrated storytelling bio, yet the read is still inviting to a broader audience. Emerging street artist readership who get their news about art online will feel at home with forty chapters that read like frequent posts. Still, the author finds narrative arcs, both high and low. Like any long career there are many.
Some are emotional. In the chapter “Good Bye Friend” Scharf recalls Haring’s deterioration and passing, and Daichendt has the reader witness the final intimate moment without feeling like they are intruding.
That tone for “In Absence of Myth” has Daichendt leave out stoic critique seen in his previous bios. He leaves that to Scharf who is fully willing to self-critique the paths he wandered on. That makes to be more than a biography of an artist. It offers some backstory of an art movement old enough to have a real history.
Kenny Scharf in front of his mural at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2010. Courtesy The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
"Slidin' Through A" and "Slidin' Through B" (2016) during opening night of “2016-2017 CSN Art & Art History Faculty Exhibition” at College of Southern Nevada Fine Arts Gallery.
Photo: LeiAnn Huddleston.
Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, UNLV
(4505 S Maryland Parkway)
Through November 30, 2016
By D.K. Sole
I hesitate to call Mike Calway-Fagen’s one-person show "poetic" because the word is so often colloquially understood to mean sweetened mush, but the first time I saw it I had been reading William Kulik’s introduction to the "Selected Poems of Max Jacob" (Oberlin College Press, 1999), and I was thinking of the implicit joins or silences that poetry allows for. "Banana Strings" struck me as a way to continue that line of thought. One of my colleagues suggested that it was a show with many entrances, which it is, in that almost any piece can serve as the first piece, an introduction to the story of the rest. Is it a coincidence that the shadow inside "rigormortis tortoise", a black ceramic vase with a pie-slice cut out of the side, falls in the shape of a keyhole?
The artist on opening night (October 27) drew attention to the fact that the trefoil arrangement of singing pony costumes in "the nature of the venture" means you can stand between them, inside the work, but then where is the work, you might think -- where is the front of it, where does it start or stop -- especially when the audio coming out of the speakers bolted into the ponies' dark-fringed cartoon eyeholes travels all over the room, even into the narrow top balcony space where an ominous submarine rotates in a video loop against the wall?
My own mental entrance to "Banana Strings", the moment when I looked back at the gallery and saw the shadow-patterned gap in the vase forming an alignment with the music-filled space between the ponies, was a block of printed text in a collage titled "in full sight". It describes the behaviour of the male saiga antelope, who often dies during rutting season, "leaving most of the food supply to the females, who propagate the species." This notion of absence and fulfillment bubbling away in the same spot with a weird combination of biology and mechanical predictability (as if the saiga is not fully one thing or the other, or as if we are all both at once) looked like the key to some angle of perceptive intelligence that the show presents to its visitors without ever trying to disguise it as an answerable question.
D.K. Sole has worked at UNLV's Marjorie Barrick Museum since it changed its focus to fine art in 2012. An artist and former resident of Melbourne, Australia, she held her first one-woman Las Vegas show, 'Some Time Ago," in 2015 at Clark County's Winchester Gallery. She was co-manager for the highly praised downtown Las Vegas gallery, Satellite Contemporary.
Photo: LeiAnn Huddleston.
ABOVE: Detail of new mural by D*Face at the Plaza Hotel.