Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tom Everhart

Artist Tom Everhart at his studio with Surfing with Franz and Willem from Waves of Influence


At Everhart Studio
Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice

“I’ve been here on Abbot Kinney for 18 years, and it’s been like sitting in a time machine, watching everything around you change,” says artist Tom Everhart. “Even in the past few months, it’s been on such a roll. It’s amazing.” 

As the only fine artist authorized to paint Peanuts comic strip characters, Tom is mostly known for his Charles Schulz-influenced paintings, which decorate the walls of his studio located on bustling Abbot Kinney Boulevard. He discusses Schulz, his upcoming exhibit at Mouche Gallery of Beverly Hills and the constant evolution of his Venice Beach neighborhood after taking me on a tour of his home base.

Tom incorporates media like acrylic paint and varnish on canvas and paper, but he also utilizes raw wood, medium-density fiber panels, plastic cups and polyester pom-pom balls to create the visually stunning Chop Chop Chop, Performance Art and Medal of Free Dumb pieces that line the main showroom of his studio space. While he’s widely known for these brightly colored works, it’s his black-and-white Schulz-influenced pieces from the past 13 years – as well as 15 exclusive new works – that are being featured in Raw: Black and White Works From 1998-2016 at Mouche Gallery from Feb. 27 through March 16.

“There are about 50 different reasons why it’s titled Raw,” he explains. “The moment when it’s black and white on that rack being drawn – that’s raw right there. In that raw state there’s a whole other beauty to it than there is with all the color that’s even sometimes more meaningful because the original approach doesn’t get lost.”

Chop Chop Chop hanging in Everhart Studio
Appreciating the black-and-white rawness of a drawing is something Tom has done since his childhood in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

“I always had coloring books, but sometimes I didn’t even color in them. I would just carry the black-and-white pages around because I thought they were strong enough without the crayons,” he shares. “That’s how the black-and-white work happens now. I start everything in black and white, and if I think it stands up strong by itself – which is rare, it happens a few times a year – then I keep it. It’s almost the same as with the coloring books where I felt there were certain things that just didn’t need color.”

In his downstairs workroom, where he normally works on small paper drawings and paintings, a beautiful black-and-white painting on raw wood and a massive plastic-cup sculpture that have been retrieved from other locations for the Mouche Gallery show fill the area. Tom instructs me to look at the sculpture from a certain angle to see how it resembles a piano, and I wonder how much time the artist has spent staring at work of his own as well as others over the course of his life.

“When I was a little kid, I spent a lot of time in art museums. I saw so much art, all these different movements, especially in Washington where my grandparents lived,” he recalls. “There was everything from the oldest of American art to the newest of contemporary art in those museums.”

Young Tom eventually studied art and architecture at Yale University, performance independent study under Earl Hofmann at St. Mary’s College and did post-graduate work at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. He began exploring artistic anatomy, doing muscle and skeleton paintings, and as he was finishing school in the early 1980s, the art world was taking a turn.

“At that point in time, most of the art world had declared painting dead for many reasons: conceptualism, minimalism, photography, the list goes on and on of why painting couldn’t go forward anymore because everything had been done. The group of people that I was playing, partying and painting with in East Village refused to believe it. We had conversations constantly about what we could do to save it before it was buried and came up with all these painting constructions that were slightly offensive and completely uncomfortable for most people in the art world. We thought that was the only way to get the art world to take painting back as a living thing was to make them uncomfortable with painting because it would make them stop and look at it,” he remembers. “Keith Haring was doing multiple paintings of penises everywhere, and I did some with him in the subways. There were paintings about racism – all sorts of subject matter. I was heading in the direction of doing a whole body of work of skeletons as religious people.” 

Then Tom met Charles M. Schulz.
The main showroom of Everhart Studio

“I was trying to draw his stuff for a project, and I couldn’t get it. I just didn’t understand the language, the cartooning to it. It was so abbreviated compared to the kind of drawings that I was used to doing that I couldn’t get past it – until I put his drawing in a projector, blew it up on a huge wall and saw the lines as paintbrush strokes. I went, ‘Oh my god, this looks just like the abstract paintings in black and white that I studied in school,’” he says. “I was expecting to meet a cartoonist, but because I got to know him as an artist, I got to know him in a completely different way. How does a cartoon strip get published every single day for 50 years and not have something else to it than just cartoon strip with cute characters? There’s got to be something much deeper in it, and that’s what I saw in his work when I was studying it. 

“From that first meeting on, he and I became friends and had lots of discussions over the next 20 years about pictorial problems simplified in black and white. Thats what we talked about for 20 years. As we got to know each other, he started telling me all these things: ‘I use this line to represent this,’ ‘If you draw three lines together they never look the same because each line is seen at a different time,’” Tom continues. “One of Schulz’s quotes hangs in his museum: ‘A cartoonist’s job is doing the same thing every day without repeating themselves.’ It’s got to be the familiar done in an unfamiliar angle for it to be art. To me, that wasn’t like a cartoonist at all. That’s a complete painter’s way of looking at the world. That caught me. It was so raw, and I was completely innocent, visually open and ready to be changed.”

After a couple of years, Tom could draw Schulz’ line just like him – not copying him but drawing an object the way he would draw it – and began creating authentic Schulz-style drawings for magazines such as Time and Good Housekeeping, in art for the White House and the majority of the MetLife campaign. Knowing Tom could draw his line exactly like he would draw it in these marketing pieces allowed Schulz to continue dedicating himself completely to the comic strip.

Simultaneously, Tom’s discussions with Schulz were influencing him so much that his skeleton paintings were becoming a bit boring to him, but after eight years of these talks he wasn’t ready to take the plunge and incorporate these techniques and theories into pieces of his own.

“I knew I could somehow work in his visual subject matter but didn’t know how without just doing Peanuts paintings because neither of us wanted that. It couldn’t be a painterly version of what he did, it had to be something that came from me, with a direction that came from me,” he says.
“In 1988 I got sick and was told I had two years to live. I was able to break through mentally and start working like he influenced me to do on paintings. This was my one chance to do it. I had to get back to the studio and do as much as I could as fast as I could. That’s what happened, and I just kept living.”

Psycho Cyclone
It took death staring him in the face as a cancer patient to give Tom the epiphany he needed to incorporate Schulz’s characters into his own work but never in a literal way. 

“It wasn’t like we ever sat down, and he said, ‘This is how you draw Snoopy.’ We would just be drawing, and he would say, ‘Look at this line. Doesn’t that express a sad feeling to you? Here’s why: It starts thin and then gets very heavy – almost like an opera would.’ He had this encyclopedic range of human emotions in his lines and that caught my eye intensely. It was never his storyline that caught my eye, it was his line,” Tom tells. “A lot of times people mistake my paintings as paintings about Peanuts when – this sounds very odd people have a hard time with it at first – they really have very little to do with the Peanuts comic strip. They have a whole lot to do with the line construction of Charles Schulz the way he breaks down line and express emotion with line. They have nothing to do with character development. I don’t follow any character relationships, I don’t pick the character because they’re the character. They always represent something else. It’s another way of seeing the world in the way he saw it but with using the influence of the visual subject matter that I learned from him.”

He made sure that the work upheld Schulz’s idea of the familiar done in an unfamiliar way, as well as infusing life into each piece as much as possible.

“It’s a line that’s gone from drawing to painting – fused it into one thing,” he describes. “The work is influenced by my relationship and the things that I’ve learned from Charles Schulz from that 20-year period, but what makes it happen, what pushes it to happen is being alive. That came from almost dying and realizing that the world only could be about being alive, and it’s been about that ever since. Every piece is about being alive and not taking it for granted.” 

This principle is certainly felt when viewing Tom’s latest group of paintings, entitled Waves of Influence, which he’s working on in the upstairs area of his studio. As I examine, the black-and-white piece for the Raw exhibition, Surfing with Franz and Willem – as in Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning – Tom explains that not only is the tiny Snoopy in the painting influenced by Schulz but so is the giant wave.

“The wave came from a Peanuts strip published on April 21, 1991 that I think Schulz did from when he was playing golf at Pebble Beach. I cut that wave out in ’91 and said, ‘One day I have to do something with it,’ and this is it,” he says. “The initial visual articulation of the wave came from that strip, but since then I’ve been spending the last two weeks at the Venice Pier just watching the breaks going out for a good hour each day, and of course in Tahiti I’m always watching. It is a combination of the rhythms in Tahiti and the rhythms of the waves here in Venice put together. That’s what I mean by being alive: I’m taking things from life that I’ve experienced, that have made differences in my life and putting them into these waves, so it still feels like it’s something alive.”

After having lived in D.C., San Francisco, Paris, New York, Baltimore and London, Tom and his wife, Jennifer, decided to make Venice their home. The couple also spends part of the year on the island of Taha’a, Tahiti. Tom says he fell in love with Venice Beach at first sight.

“The first time I ever saw Venice was in 1982 when I came with my neighbor and friend, Jean Basquiat, who was getting ready to have a show with Gagosian Gallery. He had a studio on Market Street, between Pacific and Speedway. There were one or two other studios and a hip restaurant [72 Market Street Oyster Bar and Grill]. The area was deadly with heroin addicts and gangs, but we loved that. We were from the East Village in New York and thought this was cool because you could see the violence here. In our neighborhood guys were hiding under and in between cars to hit you over the head, but out here you could see them coming for you,” Tom laughs. “I fell in love with it instantly and always had a part-time place here from that mid-‘80s period until 1997 when we moved here full time. I was just dying to move here for the weather, the not-New-York feeling. There was an art community, but it wasn’t like the one in New York where it was so amped up and on full time. Here you could just hide in your studio. Ed Ruscha had a studio right across the street up until a year or two ago, Sam Francis had a place around the corner. This felt like a sanctuary to me.”

“For every single reason possible to love L.A., I love it. I’ve always liked to be by the water. I love the rhythm out there on the bike path. I ride from here to the Palisades and back – that rhythm of the bike, the wind that goes with you, the blank peaceful water on one side and the thrusting cliffs on the other side when you’re on PCH in between those two forces,” he continues. “Even more than inspiration, it’s a key that opens a door because you’re no longer hung up on the things you get hung up on in daily life. It’s a blank canvas, and you’re in the middle of it. I do most of my effective thinking work out there.”

It’s obvious why Tom has kept Eberhart Studios in the same location for almost 20 years, even through all the ups and downs the area has experienced.

“I watched that bar across the way go from a serious biker bar where you could watch some fights at 2 a.m. to a cool hipster-like bar [The Brig]. There was a guy camped out in the middle of the parking lot, bathing himself as everyone was parking, dressed all nice going to Gjelina – we still have a balance. That’s why when people start yelling about regentrification, I say come over, spend some time at my place and watch,” he laughs. “I love it having all this new stuff grow like this, it makes the street feel alive. How can you ask an artist to be upset about growth and change because that’s what we’re supposed to do, we’re supposed to see things in a different way all the time, continuously growing and changin. That’s what Schulz and I talked about: The work had to keep feeling like it was growing. If it wasn’t growing, it wouldn’t feel alive.”

Raw: Black and White Works From 1998-2016 debuts with a premiere party from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 at Moche Gallery (340 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills 90210). The exhibit is open to the public from Feb. 28 through March 16. For more information, visit and

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Guerin Swing

Guerin Swing at his studio in North Hollywood


At Guerin Design & Development
7527 Ethel Ave. B, North Hollywood

“I’ve been doing art my whole life, since I was a little kid, and street art for 20-plus years. I grew up with people like RISK [Kelly Graval] and Estevan [Oriol]. I did art with Skate, who died when he was hit by a train, and other friends who were more into graffiti while I would take cans of paint and splash them onto walls in an alley like abstract paintings,” says artist Guerin Swing. “For me, I’ve always kind of been in the street art community, but I never really even considered myself a street artist. I just do fun stuff.” 

“I’ve had over 100 employees that are artists work for me over the years, and they would say, ‘You have to see Exit Through the Gift Shop, but I only just recently watched it. The funniest thing of all is I actually know Theirry [Guetta, “Mr. Brainwash”] from when I was 18 in Hollywood. He worked down the street; we used to party together,” he continues. “I’ve done shows with Shepard Fairey, gone over to Retna’s studio – I’m pretty involved in the street art community without realizing it. ”

The L.A. native has worked hard to be at a place where he can create street art pieces for fun while balancing orders for commissioned art pieces and jobs for his incredibly successful interior design business. It’s no wonder that when I arrive at his studio, which is housed in the headquarters for Guerin Design & Development in North Hollywood, Guerin is sipping on an energy drink. Aside from fulfilling design jobs, he is also preparing for an upcoming solo art show at Lab Art, but takes some time to give me a tour of the studio, explain some of his pieces and share some insight into his artistic beginnings.

“When I was in junior high, I wanted to be an animator. My uncle was an animator, doing cool things like the Pillsbury Doughboy, so I was really into claymation and stop motion. I won all kinds of awards at student film festivals and had a great time doing it, so that was the direction I was going,” he recalls. “When you’re young, your career counselor isn’t asking, ‘Would you like to be an artist?’ It just wasn’t put out there. So if I was going to be an artist, I guess my ‘career’ would be graphic artist.”

While Guerin had dropped out of school to pursue his dream of being an Olympic cyclist, he eventually ended up going to commercial art school when he was 17. Shortly after, he got his first job at Screamer Magazine, based on the Sunset Strip, and Guerin moved from his hometown in the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood. When computers became the main tool for graphic designers, Guerin again had to switch gears into something more fulfilling and lucrative.

“My mother, father, brother, grandmother are all in the interior design business. My dad suggested I go into decorative painting, so I did. That eventually put me into the movie business, commercials, music videos and celebrity homes. Then I started doing commissioned paintings for people like Tommy Lee and Slash, and I’ve been doing commissioned pieces for the last 20 years.”

Most design firms have at least one vision board dotting desks in their offices, but Guerin’s is actually an entire wall covered in press clippings and photos of past art pieces he has done for clients such as Halle Berry, Tommy Lee, Britney Spears, Nikki Sixx, Paul Stanley and Slash. His design work can also be seen at L.A. hot spots like Palmilla, Katana, Javier’s Cantina, Estrella, the Roxbury and Red O as well as on various E!, MTV and HGTV shows.

After I stare at this wall for a few minutes, Guerin leads me back to the lobby where one of his gorgeous Ganesh paintings is propped up on the couch.

“Back around 1995 I did these Ganesh pieces for Brent Bolthouse’s Opium Den, which had this whole Eastern vibe. I started doing these Ganeshes around town because it was a fun thing to wheatpaste and stencil them all over, and then everyone loved them, had a great response to them,” he says. “I’ve had Aerosmith hire me to put them on their road boxes, and a friend in the TV/film business had me put them on his equipment boxes, too.”

We move into a hallway where two more Ganesh pieces hang.

“Then I started doing things with tar. These are all tar, silver leaf and gold leaf – no paint’s involved. I live in Malibu and with all the things happening with the environment and the beach, and then tar is also natural element from the earth. You have tar, and you think about the dinosaurs and mammoths. It’s a natural resource that now fuels our entire world,” he explains. “I’ve done these masks in tar and worked with different kinds of tar for 25 years. It all goes back to when movie studios would use tar in nicotine wash on set walls to age them and make them look old.”

Guerin moves on to two pieces that are in his show happening Feb. 24 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Lab Art: a customized makeup chair finished using live metal and upholstered with real Louis Vuitton leather, and a bicycle that he welded and customized with the same Louis Vuitton material.

“The name of the show is Gold Digger since I’ve been working with gold and silver leaf and have been doing this fun Louis Vuitton thing. I use all this couture stuff (Hermès, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent) and other brands like Aston Martin (who are sponsoring the show) and Coca-Cola,” he tells. “I’m taking ‘Men at Work’ traffic signs, turn turn the man into a woman, affix gold foil to the end of her shovel, and now she’s a gold digger. I did one in Beverly Hills and am going to put one up on PCH in Santa Monica near the California Incline construction.” 

In addition, Guerin is turning a female mannequin into a well-dressed construction worker – complete with a copper Hermès helmet – holding a shovel with its handle wrapped in the Louis Vuitton leather for an installation to be placed in front of a luxury boutique in the city alongside some faux broken-up concrete with gold and fake jewels in the center and a pile of dirt next to it. If she doesn’t get stolen, you’ll be able to see her at the Gold Digger show next week.

Once I walk into Guerin’s studio area, I see more of his paintings that are part of the exhibit before he shows off two huge Snap-on tool chests that he has completely transformed.

“Snap-on is like the Rolls-Royce of tool boxes, so I wrapped one in Louis Vuitton and put an ebony top on it. I did one for Slash and Steven Tyler, and this one will be in the show with another one all wrapped in real python. The handles are chrome femur bones,” he describes.  

A painting of the Little Green Guy that Guerin is using in some of his street art pieces catches my eye, and Guerin shares that he’s testing out a process to patina the copper he has painted onto the canvas of the piece. He also offers some background on the little figure.

“That’s a new one that I’ve been playing with. It reminds me of my childhood. My grandma used to live in Venice, right where the Venice Pier is, and I remember being in fourth grade and finding these Little Green Guy stickers in a surf shop. I thought they were so cool,” he smiles. “They really remind me of West Coast, lowbrow culture.”

At this point in his career, what it all comes down to for Guerin is eliciting some kind of response from those who see his art. Whether it’s inside a chic Hollywood restaurant, on a cement wall in a Downtown alley or hanging in Lab Art during his Gold Digger show, it’s about what the art represents to the viewer. 

“I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at as an artist. I want to show my art, and if I can sell it, god bless me and the person that buys it. That’s the cherry on top. If I can put my stuff on display, people come to see it and I get a good response, I’m happy.”

Gold Digger/Aston Martin Presents: The Art Show Featuring the Works of Guerin Swing is from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Lab Art (217 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles). For more information, visit