Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2003
By James Verini
THE president’s face seems to be everywhere these days, and while the red states may be pleased as punch, his image is not a source of mirth to some in the Los Angeles arts community. Around here, George W. Bush’s smile seems to hang in the air like one of Warhol’s Brillo Pad boxes circa 1978 — abrasive to some but ubiquitous as well. So it seemed fitting on any number of levels to find, Friday night, no fewer than eight disembodied Dubya-heads, silk-screened in eerie electric green and defaced with slashes of paint, floating around on the fifth floor of the L.A. County Museum of Art.
The occasion was the opening party for the 18th annual Los Angeles Fine Print Fair, which was put on by the Graphic Arts Council and LACMA and lasted the weekend.
But for most of the evening, the galleries of quaint lithographs and whispering dealers were neglected for the experiment in idol-smashing that was going on in the event’s main room. There, one of L.A.’s reigning post-Pop dignitaries, Kenny Scharf, was voicing the opposition and attempting to paint on the spot the first ever — or so it was billed — “invisible mural.” Scharf is no stranger to this kind of impromptu public statement-making. He came of age with Keith Haring in New York in the 1980s, commenting on the effects of Reaganomics with spontaneous subway art and turning the stuffy gallery scene on its head.
ON a set of seven pretreated 5-foot-by-4-foot panels, framed top and bottom by black lights, Scharf walked around with a long brush and different cans of what appeared to be simply white paint, squiggling, splattering, doodling, apparently to no effect. And then the black lights would suddenly flash on for a few moments, and the audience would chuckle and clap as the electric blue, green, yellow and pink mural momentarily illumined.
Dubya-heads, adorned with Man Ray mustachios and missiles flying into their mouths, came to life. The portraits of Bush were joined by images of SUVs and nuclear fission symbols and the words “Axis of Evil” and “Oil” repeated over and over. And a lot of splatters of loose paint thrown in for good measure.
The overall effect of the mural, whose making lasted about two hours, could have been compared with a magically expanding piece of politically conscious bathroom graffiti.
This is the kind of direct approach the artist enjoys. “We all know what this [possible] war’s about,” said Scharf, who managed to remain remarkably free of invisible paint.
The night nearly took an ugly turn when a guest approached Scharf as he was painting and announced that if he was against Bush, Scharf must be for Saddam Hussein.
“I’m not for Saddam Hussein,” Scharf shot back. “But I’m against this war.”