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
"Entre Caballos" by Antonio Gómez
For over a decade, Las Vegas photographer Antonio Gómez has captured the ritual of the modern Charrería, a tradition that links to the working vaqueros, the cattlemen of the Spanish-ruled west. (And from that came forth the American cowboy, and what is known as the modern rodeo). “More then the national sport of Mexico, it is something that evokes enormous pride in all Mexican no matter where they live,” says Gómez on his Kickstarter page for a planned book. “Charrería considers etiquette just as important as athletic agility." Gómez has curated his photography, that along with works by Mexican poet José María Limon, will be a document that uses text and image to present an intimate interpretation of a culture that shaped the West.
I just got back from California for a weekend mural safari, which included being a guest of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles for "The Olympic Freeway Murals: Celebrating 30 Years." Held at El Pueblo, the gathering celebrated the muralists who painted the walls of downtown LA freeways for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
While there I did something I rarely do; bother people to sign their name.
What prompted me to be mural fan-boy was a book donated to Friends of Henderson Libraries. I’ve been hitting local library book sales to build up my collection and had some good finds. From Enterprise Library in Las Vegas I found “Chuck Close” by Robert Storr, Chuck Close, Kirk Varnedoe, and Deborah Wye, written for the 1998 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. I bought that for two dollars. Another time I saw “Jackson Pollock” by Deborah Solomon on sale for a buck, so I nabbed it.
Last Wednesday, at the City of Henderson James I Gibson Library, I saw “Painting the Towns: Murals of California” by Robin J. Dunitz and James Prigoff on the For Sale table. I already had it, but hated to see it just sitting there, so I shelled out a dollar for it.
As I parked at El Pueblo on Sunday, I remembered “Painting the Towns” was still in my car trunk. Now, I have met and spoken with each of the muralists at one time or another in the last few years, but to have them all together a few blocks away from the 101 Freeway, where many of the murals are installed, was a special event.
The signatures in “Painting the Towns” are on the back pages titled “Notes While On The Mural Trail.”
Isabel Rojas-Williams, Executive Director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, waving in stray muralists for a photo-op.
Bill Lasarow, Co-Founder of MCLA, with co-host art advocate and actor/comedian Cheech Marin at the Pico House at El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historical Monument / Olvera Street.
Proceeds from these book sales benefit local libraries. Go get a few.
"Book Sales for all Henderson Libraries in the next 30 days" (Friends of Henderson Libraries)
Las Vegas Clark County Library Foundation
Above: Krystal Ramirez “I Want to See More Brown Bodies” from 2017 will be reassembled at UNLV’s Barrick Museum of Art in Spring 2018.