Interview with Artist Jenny Sharaf

Having recently taken a trip to Los Angeles for the first time, I became transfixed with the iconic images of the California blonde, the sad girl, and all the other happy people in workout clothes that inhabit this sinking state.

Things that I think of when I think of California: Pretty Woman, Lana del Rey, swimming pools, palm trees, high heels, convertibles. These stereotypes were obliterated after visiting the city though and realizing how many different people live in this magical place where there’s a beautiful diversity in landscape and culture.

When I saw  Jenny Sharaf’s work, something about her luscious pours of paint in vibrant hues and images of Cali pop culture made me nostalgic for the west coast lifestyle I never even had (and a hair color I could never achieve).

Jenny is an artist based in San Francisco, but she was born and raised in LA. She’s a west coast babe through and through, and her art, like much of the art coming out of the west coast, has its own discernible energy. Working with paint, collage, video, and installation, each piece she makes is delicious eye candy.

Your paintings have a distinct style, hand, and energy. How did you develop your visual language?

Thank you! That's a wonderful compliment. I would probably say a lot of time goes into it and being honest with myself and the work. Not trying to be a style, but just letting things happen and being curious in the studio.

Can you talk about your video and technology practice? How does this relate to your painting practice? Do the two exist in the same world?

I haven't made videos in awhile but am planning a new series for an upcoming installation at the Luggage Store Gallery. I think the videos help to inform the more abstract work and put it all into context. I also really enjoy working with video as a physical form. For example, when I was doing TV-Kaleidoscopes, the video was transformed into a moving image sculpture.

What kind of head space are you in when you are creating?

I do my best work in the mornings - fully caffeinated and being very present. Working with large amounts of paint forces quick decisions and being light on your feet, which is really fun.  

You reference California, and the “California girl” when talking about your work. Are you a west coast girl for life?

I am definitely a west coast girl for life. Growing up in LA was great, but I always knew that San Francisco was my city. The idea and mythology of the “CA girl” is continuously enchanting and the basis for much of my work.

You recently did a project titled “Babe Decor”. Can you explain it? I love the word “Babe” and how it has a so many different connotations depending on who is using it, the inflection, etc. What is a “babe” to you?

Babe is definitely a loaded word. I remember hearing my dad say it a lot on the phone, in a funny Hollywood business way. For some reason, when he says it, it doesn't sound insincere or cheesy. But then hearing it in other contexts, it takes on completely different implications. Babe Decor was a project I started in grad school in an effort to rebrand feminism. It speaks to using the imagery of women to sell products and lifestyle. The project continues in many different iterations, most recently as the Richard Prince Spring Fashion Line. Basically, I re-appropriated Prince's appropriated instagram project and had the featured models wear their own products. It's very meta but brings to light many issues around feminism, art-making, art history, and copyright - to just breeze over it. You can see more about it on my website.

What time of day are you most inspired/inclined to create? Do you have any rituals you do before getting to work?

I usually paint/create in my studio during the day. For some reason, I don't trust myself painting at night. I make rash decisions and can't see colors as clearly in artificial light. My morning ritual is to wake up around 6:30AM, handle all of my email/computer stuff, then leave the rest of the day for making art and meetings. I'm working on stuff at all times though, it just doesn't feel like work.

You also have experience as a curator. How is this different from your art practice? What do you enjoy about the role of the curator vs. the creator?

I'm still figuring that one out.... I think my motivation around being a curator is to create a community in the Bay Area. But that's just a part of it. I've been thinking recently that it is kind of similar to the painting - I set up a situation for things to happen spontaneously within. Maybe I'm getting too heady with it, but as I continue to do events and these performative "social practice" feeling projects, I think it’s clear that both parts of my studio practice are about process and a lack of control.

What female creators do you look up to/inspire you?

Lynda Benglis, Judy Chicago, Sonia Delaunay, Alice Neel, Joan Brown, Martha Wilson, Lynn Hershman, Helen Frankenthaler, Ray Eames, Tracey Emin, Andrea Zittel, Mary Weatherford, Pipilotti Rist, Alicia McCarthy, I could go on forever.....

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes, of course.