"From an early age, I always thought that being an artist seemed like the most fulfilling career there was. And if you could figure out how to make a living from it, even better," shares Jenny Sharaf, the San Francisco-based creative whose distinctive signature style is her talented use of abstract, almost psychedelic, swirls of saturated colour. "My grandmother was a docent at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and loved art. Going to exhibitions with her was a major influence."
Growing up around the film and television industry in Los Angeles – meeting her parent's full-time artist friends from their UCLA film school days – also played its part in steering Sharaf's career trajectory. Perhaps, albeit subconsciously, forming the basis of her narrative focus. "I think the aesthetic of ‘LaLa land’ comes into my work. Whether it's a sunny and chlorinated palette or an attitude of West Coast making, a lot of influences are there, both formally and conceptually, that comes from a joyful place."
Inspired by the visual languages of abstraction, counterculture, fashion, youth, television, and modernism, Sharaf wants her paintings to connect with as many people as possible. While her growing body of work –– whether adorning an oversized canvas, vintage photo collage, or denim jacket –– celebrates process while reflecting on art history, counterculture, and feminism, colour unquestionably plays a starring role. "Colour comes naturally to me. It is an intuitive process but has still taken a lot of practice to hone in on what makes a palette work," she explains. "I try not to repeat myself and challenge the arrangement for every piece I create. Different colours, and the feelings they can produce, are powerful but the introduction to a black, for example, can change everything."
Sharaf completed her BFA at The University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in 2009 but as a self-proclaimed ‘West Coast girl for life’, she "knew San Francisco and its counterculture was her place" and felt California calling her back again. This time with a move to Oakland for her MFA at Mills College. "My first solo show was at the Luggage Store Project Space on Haight Street. Laurie Lazer and Daryl Smith (both co-owners), and early day Luggage protégé Yarrow Slaps –– who have given first exhibitions to many wonderful artists in San Francisco and beyond –– are my earliest champions. I'm forever grateful they saw the potential in my work." An institution within San Francisco's alternative arts scene, the Luggage Store flagship opened in the early 90s on the corner of Sixth and Market and is respected for its support of up-and-coming urban artists, helping them garner critical early exposure.
For a young multidisciplinary artist getting her first break, Sharaf has built an impressive roster of career highs. Her work graces the private and BlueChip collections of Yoko Ono, Google SF HQ, and Capital One. She's held solo exhibitions at galleries in San Francisco, and as far afield as Switzerland. An artist residency at The Ace Hotel in London's Shoreditch garnered favourable reviews in 2018. Last fall, an invitation to show at the Beirut Art Fair took her to Lebanon. She was the first featured artist for Offshore Snow Shapes The ARTlab collaboration series; five of her special-edition prints adorned a limited run of hand-pressed snowboards in Niseko, Japan. And then, of course, there are the murals. Most notably, "Super Fresh Paint" (2017) below the Naka-Meguro subway station in Tokyo, her proudest career moment to date –– "whenever I go back to visit, I have to pinch myself that it is even real."
After a whirlwind decade of group and solo exhibitions, site-specific installations, and brand collaborations, Sharaf does a little curating and consulting on the side, too, if people reach out and projects feel aligned. Right now, she's the Curator of Culture at her Marinship Studios just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito. "Mostly, people come by my work online, specifically on Instagram," she explains. "Last September, a wonderful new gallery from Beirut, WIP Gallery, flew my assistant and I out for an exhibition and installation. I didn't have any expectations but try to say yes if it feels like a good fit."
Another recent "best thing that happened" moment for Sharaf was getting started on a big upcoming for-site project with veteran gallerist Cheryl Haines. "I've always admired her work, and when she reached out to me for help, I was beyond flattered." As far as upcoming exhibitions, Sharaf will be preparing for a fall show in Paris and hopefully something stateside. "I'm working on a book, too," she confides, "I'll be ready to share more details on that soon, though."
Most inspired? When I get home from travelling –– favourite cities include Paris, Kyoto, Copenhagen, and New York, sorry I couldn't pick just one! –– when there are a lot of new visuals floating in my mind for subconscious inspiration.
Current playlist on heavy rotation? Usually classical in the studio, although Tommy Guerrero and Alice Coltrane have been on repeat for the last couple of weeks.
How does your day start? Drinking a lot of coffee, staring out of the window. Writing lists for daily goals. I tend to work on multiple projects at once, so there has to be a flow and order to the chaos. After that, I head into the studio to paint.
Spirit animal? My spirit animal is a sea turtle.
What does an ideal weekend in San Francisco look like? My ideal weekend includes time in the studio and eating out at a spicy Thai restaurant. Maybe cocktails at Louie's Gen Gen Room. I try to never make plans on Sundays – that is the ideal – but I'll often go to hot yoga and then spend time at my local farmers market. Hanging with my boyfriend and dog (they're pretty cute) maybe a tennis game, hike, or bike ride. Something active but not too strenuous.
Guilty pleasures? Real Housewives (any city) and peanut butter by the spoonful!