Scooter LaForge’s fertile mind finds an outlet in everything from a blank canvas to T-shirts and jackets.
An example of the former, his “Homo Eruptus” series of monumental paintings, can be seen at Howl Happening gallery through March 13, and Spring/Break, March 5 to 11. The works combine queer imagery such as bunnies, bears and SpongeBob, with references to prehistoric cave paintings and the New York’s gay bars and sex clubs that were the stomping grounds of the artist’s youth. LaForge links it all to the erotic murals of Pompeii and the tragedy of the Roman city, which was destroyed in 79 A.D. by Mount Vesuvius.
“Homo Eruptus” grew out of a mural La Forge recently painted outside the Tel Aviv Municipal Youth LGBT Community Center where four teenagers were murdered in 2009. Ominous dark clouds swirl above the flirtatious rabbit, birds, cat and monkey in the mural. “I made it very kid-friendly,” he said. “I collaborated with Rona Kenan, a folk/pop singer, who is a gay icon in Israel. The mural is called, ‘Would you be my girlfriend.'”
In one of the “Homo Eruptus” works, titled, “Federico, Will You Be My Girlfriend,” the two horsed figures entered the artist’s imagination through Fellini’s “Satyricon,” which was based on the fictional Latin work by Petronius that combines comic, serious, decadent and carnal versus.
“The paintings have scale, theatricality and storytelling,” said artist Izhar Patkin, who discovered LaForge in “my own idiosyncratic way of looking at work without knowing anything about the work. I have little things I look for, which are nobody’s business. The thing that really struck me was that here was the manifestation or expression of a new sort of gay fluidity.
“In many ways, the work symbolizes a kind of fluidity and the absence of taboos,” Patkin said, whose work will be the subject of a retrospective at Howl in January. “He’s like a real painter’s painter.”
“Izhar and I work like polar opposites,” LaForge said. “Izhar is very strategic. I think in terms of scenes and story and sub-preliminary sketching. The paintings work themselves out on blank canvas. I don’t have much interest in what everybody else likes.”
LaForge’s largest paintings on unframed canvas measure 17-by-17-by-15 feet. Even before he began the series, LaForge decided that the bolt of canvas he had was too pristine. On a gray and drizzly day, he and Patkin unfurled the fabric onto First Street and directed cars to drive over it. “The cars were afraid to drive over the fabric,” LaForge said. “When we were done, it was really filthy. We gave it a patina.”
LaForge has collaborated with Antwerp designer Walter van Beirendonck, and hand-paints hats, T-shirts and jackets that he calls Scooterwear and sells at Patricia Field’s e-commerce store, among other retailers. “I didn’t invent painting clothes, but I’ve gotten knocked off directly by [designer] brands,” he said.
Before LaForge started painting full time, which was 12 years ago, he worked at Jimmy Choo’s Madison Avenue flagship, where he was “the top salesperson,” he said. “I was very good at it and loved that job.
“As the art work was rising, I went part time at Jimmy Choo,” he continued. “Then, I had to let that job go and take a leap of faith. I thought, if I fail, I can always go back to selling on Madison Avenue. The sales job taught me everything about marketing and promoting myself and my art. It was all about clienteling, and making sure my customers were happy.”
LaForge delivered shoes after work to the homes of his socialite clients. “I bought 50 notebooks with the Andy Warhol drawing of a shoe for 99 cents each and gave them to my clients,” LaForge said. “They loved them.”