Interview with Shark Toof

On October 9, 2012 by Haunted Euth

Let me just be forward about this – The artist known as Shark Toof is a close friend of mine. With that having been said, he’s simply not an easy person to put into words. He likes to paint, works harder then almost anyone I have ever met, enjoys drinking beer, hanging at the beach and, most importantly is a dedicated individual focused intently on furthering his craft. Whether it’s painting, drawing, tagging, putting up posters or just having a conversation, the result is always undeniably Shark Toof. 

1. Let’s start from the beginning, where did the name Shark Toof originate from and can you provide information as to when and why you began working under that alias?
Shark Toof the name was born from years of wondering how to continue being a graffiti artist without the hate and politics. I started using Shark Toof in the fall of 2006. Coming up with a completely new identity allowed me to be removed from the art and become a spectator as well as the creator.

2. Can you give us a description as to the formative years that led to that decision, what was happening regarding visual culture at the time, what led you to the path you are on today?
I grew up doing graffiti starting in 1984-85 which led me into doing fine art in my senior year in high school. I eventually attended Art center College Of Design in 1995 and whole world had opened up with so many paths and choices. At the time, there were quite a few trends but the internet wasn’t really around so trends were wet by contemporary illustrations in magazines or annuals. “Low Brow” art was the big trend and I was drawn towards that partially because I needed a commercial outlet. I didn’t see how you could possibly be making money from charcoal drawings or oil paintings. When I graduated in 1998 I floundered for several years, freelancing, teaching, and generally unhappy with the work. The Clayton Brothers had always encouraged me to incorporate my graffiti upbringing in my work. Their advice during school resonated through the years and helped with my decision to reactivate this part of my life. 

3. Being native to Los Angeles can you describe how the city has influenced your work, and explain why you choose to live in this city?
Los Angeles is what I know and have always known. I never really gave my work an origin but the more work I am making the more I realize the aggressive nature within the context and style of the work. I guess it’s an innate pressure to jam every bell and whistle into a piece to catch your attention. It’s as if you had only a gum wrapper to write on and stuff into your S.O.S. shipwreck bottle. I feel like every piece has that urgency. 

4. Would you please explain what the driving force behind your most recent body of work, is it tongue and cheek, personal exploration, is there a particular message or narrative theme in the work that you want to impress upon the viewer?
The most recent work has been a body of work I wanted to produce for a long time. I have been working hard at transitioning towards fine art which means more questions than answers. The new work is meant for contemplation and reflection. Participation in line quality, texture, shape, composition, color, and subject is the adventure. Each one of these qualities are specific in meaning and intent. For example red is urgent or desperate, while cool colors can be romantic or melancholy. The titles of the paintings themselves help explain the seen and unseen. The paintings address the many issues of romance and nature but yet still open for interpretation as each individuals life experience is different but the dialogue is parallel.

5. What do you believe qualifies as important when making a body of work, what qualities do you search for in other artist’s work who you admire?
A cohesive vision and strong direction is paramount. I do enjoy work that says many things from time to time but I think the strongest work usually has singular goal to achieve. I am attracted to work that is challenging. This challenge can be subtle or “left field” but I admire and draw energy from bravado. 

6. It seems that most of your work is social, depicting gender politics and human nature at the forefront – both themes concern multiple eras and fall into a broad category of artistic lineage – Do you consider yourself to be a artist concerned with the topics of our era, or do you think that your work has a broader scope – where do you see your work concerning art history and time – is it about the past, the present or looking toward the future?
Well I’d like to be able to say the work is timeless and I don’t think I’ll ever say “oh that was so 2012.” Romance is timeless as soap operas and dramas. I think the content of the work is progressive in that nothing is sugar coated. The references I make are responsible for our belief systems so I juxtapose those references against our most basic make up. We are animals and nature answers everything. 

7. You have made reference to advertisement and culture jamming in your work, how do you feel about the use of street art and graffiti as a marketing tool and it’s usage as a buzz word to move artists work in a gallery setting? What do you think of when you are called a street artist or graffiti artist – do you feel that it is a accurate description of the work you do?
The term’s Graffiti and street art are a way for outsiders to describe the type of art or influences. I think all of it is great. I do think there needs to be a strict distinction though that actual graffiti and street art is done illegally. Otherwise it is street art and graffiti inspired art. My work also falls into thisrule. My murals are not really street art or graffiti and neither is my gallery work. I am a fine artist with background in graffiti and street art.

9. Do you have a specific medium you enjoy working with most? Can you talk a little bit as to the reason for the reason that your new body of work is painted, as opposed to screen printed – or, concerning working outside the choice of spray paint to wheat paste, marker to roller?
Eventually I want to go back to charcoal and oil painting as that is my true love. Studying under incredible painters as Richard Bunkall, Ray Turner, Aaron Smith, and Steve Houston, oils will be a part of my life again. I am painting full time again as opposed to screen printing. Screen printing for me was a savior in that I am so critical about my work, it was difficult to look at any given painting for more than a couple of days. Screen printing allowed me to do a drawing, print it, and on with the next. Painting is like looking in the mirror and you can’t get rid of the circles around your eyes from the night before.

10. Because the act of painting graffiti is spontaneous, and sitting down in the studio with a canvas is so methodical, is there a pre-game process that you use to sort of mesh those two experiences, do you meditate or see the finished work in your head? Is the any conflict or struggle trying to access how to operate in those two worlds at the same time?
I think there are two different outcomes to painting spontaneously and a piece that is more methodical. I try to induce both indoors or out. Generally it’s an arm wrestle every time as I am never satisfied. There is a general picture, conversely I also allow the painting to guide me.

11. What projects or shows are you working on currently? What’s the next thing for SharkToof?
Work is already welling up inside me, so the work is only going to be more intense and pushed both on the street as indoors. I never want to tippy toe on the conservative side and always want the feeling of anticipation. 

12. Is there anything you would like to tell the younger generation of artists who read this, any particular sentiment or value you feel is important to achieving their goals? Shout outs?
Words cannot express the gratitude towards everyone who have supported me along this journey. Thank you. 

Shark Toof’s current gallery exhibiton, titled “Ping Pong Show” is on display at the C.A.V.E Gallery (Venice, CA) from October 20th – November 11th 2012 and his book, ” SHARK TOOF” is now available through ZERO+ Publishing.

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