For the fifth edition of FOG Design + Art, we tapped San Francisco artist Jenny Sharaf to conceive of the first-ever Cultured Newsstand. The resulting psychedelic structure is as much a commentary on the shifting media space as it is an art object in the painter’s signature style. We chatted with Sharaf as she was installing the work on the eve of the fair. Read on to learn more about the artist, and stop by to experience the work for yourself.
When did you arrive at your signature approach to painting? When I was in grad school, I became very dedicated to pouring paint. It was during a time when I was being experimental with materials and thinking about painting in the context of feminism and the art world. Lots of bleach and epoxy in the studio. Whatever I could try. Since then, I’ve been pushing my painting process beyond canvasses and onto large walls, one project leading into the next, creating new questions to be explored.
Without giving away too much, can you share some of the tools you use in the studio? I want to be as connected to the paint as possible. I try to not use any tools to mediate that experience. At least, for this body of work. The goal is to move and think simultaneously. In the moments where the materials are dictating the next move, there’s an indescribable balance between control and spontaneity. Tools often get in the way of that connection.
Tell us about your relationship with the Headlands. I was the featured artist for their auction last year. For the event, I painted a 1957 Chevy New Yorker. Also, we did a bento scarf collaboration (that’s available through their website). Oh, and I also gave an art hike last summer, where I took a group to the beach in hued glasses and we explored our personal color palettes. Although I haven’t been a formal artist in resident, they’ve been very supportive of my practice in different ways over the years.
When did you make San Francisco your home? And what brought you north from LA? I moved to San Francisco a little more than 10 years ago. My mom grew up here and most her family still lives in the city. After finishing my undergraduate degree in Hawaii and I was ready for the next move, I knew San Francisco was my place. It seemed less intimidating to be an artist, than LA or NYC. San Francisco had always called to me. It seemed like a small city where counterculture was tangible and unpretentious. That’s harder to find now.
What was the appeal compared to LA where you grew up? People write entire essays comparing San Francisco to Los Angeles. They’re so different, and both amazing in their own rights. The air is a lot cleaner here, which is a big deal, and the people are a bit more grounded. Or at least they don’t seem to have strange fake stories about being models or actors.
Feminism plays a role in your work. What does being a feminist mean to you today? Being a feminist today is believing that women are equal—equal opportunities, equal pay, equal everything. I’m constantly grappling with how to be a better feminist. It is very important to me. Especially because I come from a long line of strong women with important things to say.
I love the empowerment going on right now. It feels very alive and progressive. We are making serious change and things are getting better daily. Young people are interpreting this new wave of feminist thinking in such dynamic ways and it’s all moving quickly through the internet. It couldn’t feel more fluid and real time.
Personally, I try to remind myself daily to supporting other women and to be vocal about issues. I don’t know that I’ve found my full voice or channel yet, but I’m always working on it and trying to conceptualize new means to express these thoughts. Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes lit a bit of fire for me, and every other woman that was watching I’m sure.
Who are some of the artists that have influenced your practice? Lynda Benglis, Helen Frankenthaler and Katharina Grosse are probably the most influential artists on my practice. Other all time favorites include John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Alice Neel, Richard Artschwager, Morris Louis, Frank Stella. In a more contemporary sense, I’m always looking at Sterling Ruby, Mark Horowitz, Alicia McCarthy, Chip Lord, Henry Taylor. The lists could go on and on. I both love and hate this question.
You’ve been a part of a number of collaborations over the last several years. What is most important to you when agreeing to a partnership? It’s important that I actually like the brand. That I would wear it, share with a friend IRL, not be embarrassed to be associated. Liking bringing a new date to meet your friends. I always want to feel proud of the brand partnerships I agree to. Otherwise, it feels totally yucky the whole way through.
I think it is a very interesting landscape at this moment for artist collaborations and sponsorships. Brands are more open to ideas now than ever. It’s a fun challenge to figure out how to push the boundaries and find new patrons in new categories. I’m constantly looking to brands to sponsor my weird ideas. I’ve gotten tons of no’s, but I still try. I’ve been pitching a mural world tour, but one has signed on yet;)
What has been your most ambitious project to date and why? Doing a mural in Tokyo was the most ambitious to date, but also the most rewarding. The wall is on the side of a busy train station and spans around 90 feet long.
What’s on deck for 2018? Heading back to Japan this spring. Working on a new series of painting, that brings back some more representational imagery. There’s also a mural project in LA and I’m working on some exciting brand collaborations, that I can’t legally talk about yet, but stay tuned!
I noticed you have a very special studio assistant. How is it working with your partner? Art is a family operation at this point. John Duket, my partner in crime, has become a major part of the work. He is a great material expert, knows my painting practice better than anyone and is the main muscle behind being able to scale up projects.
Give us the Sharaf guide to San Francisco. The Presidio, great for hikes and checking out Alcatraz @ inspiration point; Tonga Room, favorite place for rum cocktails and classic SF vibes; Held Over, favorite vintage store in SF, great place to gather inspiration; Flora Grubb, sitting in their heated seats and drinking coffee. Plus it’s dog friendly; Green Apple Books, best book store ever. Perfect for stepping in when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Their employee suggestions are usually spot on.