Sharif Farrag grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley and just earned a BFA. His aesthetic combines influences from growing up near Los Angeles, discovering graffiti, and skateboarding, as well as his parents’ cultural backgrounds, and being raised Muslim in the U.S. post-9/11. Check out the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I am from Reseda, CA which is a part of the San Fernando Valley. It’s where they filmed the Karate Kid, and Encino Man. “The Valley” is often thought of as in relation to Los Angeles, “go back to the valley” is something people used to say. I think it started in the 50’s, with the Valley being kind of “new”. I guess all of L.A. is sort of new.
I just graduated with a BFA degree from the University of Southern California, I transferred there from Community College. I like doodling and skateboarding a lot, they are kinda similar. My Dad is Egyptian, my mom is Syrian, I’m a first-generation American, I grew up Muslim. My dad has seizures from time to time and has been in nine comas since 1999. His struggles have inspired a lot of my work, especially the otherworldly aspects of it. I love cooking Arabic food, cute things like dogs, mice, coyotes, ants, I guess I like animals and nature a lot.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I discovered art at a young age, I kind of just drew to express myself like many other kids. I remember thinking Picasso was cool, but I didn’t get exposed to much of art history until after high school. I took my first serious art class in community college. My main introduction to art when I was a kid was through graffiti. I really liked this KOG billboard on Reseda Blvd, I loved how graffiti looked, and it also claimed space. It was powerful. Doing graffiti allowed me to create a new representation for myself at a young age, and not one mediated through my body, heritage, and whatever else came with that. All of this was in the decade after 9/11, and as for being Muslim, representation was a huge deal. Graffiti really showed me how I could take agency over the things I liked, skateboarding did also. I customized all of my things by drawing on them, putting stickers on things, I was just customizing everything. By college, I figured I’d start to represent myself through art also, and that process of self-realization has been very enlightening.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
I like improvisation a lot, whether it be with ideas, drawing, or processes. I think I am also constantly working with memory, style, and representation. I try to pick up on aesthetics that I love from the valley, Los Angeles, music, and American culture in general, and then blend them with my heritage. I’m constantly pursuing a style that reflects my existence and my history in a way that is genuine. It’s hard for me to define what genuine work is, instead I just keep making without definition. I also enjoy trying to express emotion through imagery and have been thinking a lot about surrealism lately.
What is your process like?
I take a lot of pics when I walk around and gain inspiration from things I see around me. I drive a lot, do a lot of people watching, and listen. Los Angeles is a beautiful, complex, endlessly inspiring place. Many of my ideas for work come out of my daily life, I don’t really see a separation between my life and my work. I work on many things at once, nothing becomes too precious, and I am always trying to push things into new, interesting places through risky procedures. I doodle a lot with clay and drawing, and often those things inspire larger pieces. My hands can be a lot more effective when I let them roam free. Hand intelligence is something that’s cool, it takes a lot of practice. I love being defined by what they make.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I have so many mentors and they all help me so much. A teacher once told me “to not try to make art that people like, but rather just build respect around your art practice.” I liked that.
What is your studio like?
Right now I am the artist in residence at the Long Beach Museum of Art, and I have a studio in the basement there. I still work in the shared ceramic studio at USC, but I don’t know how much longer I can make that work. I am lucky though and have a residency starting in the Fall of 2018 at the Center of Contemporary Ceramics at Cal State Long Beach so I will be working there a lot. Otherwise, I work in my parent’s garage in Reseda, CA and all over LA.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Expectations are hard to deal with.
What are three words you would use to describe your work?
spooky, groovy, curious
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a wall piece mural type thing at the Long Beach Museum of Art, and will be a part of a couple of exhibitions later this year and next year. I’m cooking up a lot of new ideas 🙂
I am also finishing up the last pages of my comic book “Hussein : Adventures in Reseda”. It’s an old western style comic with a guy named Hussein, a crazy clock, a badass blacksmith, an evil coyote, and a mouse named Marcel.