What happens when an artist’s life becomes her creative process? Margi Scharff challenged herself to make art while paring down her life. She found the solution first in Mexico and then in three extensive sojourns to ten Asian countries where, over a period spanning five years, she created collages using “Raw Materials, from the Road in Asia,” the title of her concurrent exhibitions. At L2kontemporary she exhibits her latest work; while at Rio Hondo Gallery her rarely seen works from 2001 to 2006 are gathered together.
With a palette of discarded papers, unique to each country, Scharff has created over 200 small scale collages, filled notebooks with stories, and shot endless photographs. The collages, composed of train schedules, matchbooks, stamps, advertisements, posters, cigarettes and food wrappers, are a continually replenished pile of exotic and magical subjects, colorful shapes, and slogans rife with fanciful lettering in many languages, and peppered with humorous advertising superlatives. Her movable studio was anywhere she could find a window, table and chair where she would breathe life into orphan paper scraps.
One of the best works, “Night Journey,” composed in India, is a colorful landscape with the sky above suggested by fragments of sun-filled weather reports. Symbols taken from wrappers form a lush hillside landscape, a winding village, the Taj Mahal, and a turbaned farmer below plowing with two oxen. Scharff, who had been a sculptor, treats each creation three-dimensionally, building layer upon layer, tone upon tone, and juxtaposing light and dark in relief. She arranges local remnants into fields of colors, words, and pictures, such as regal Indian tigers or Vietnamese couples on motorcycles. Then she coats the finished collage with polyurethane to bestow permanence on what was once discarded.
|Like a wandering monk for whom less is more, Scharff earned just enough money to live and create. In her travels (often on foot) she developed a way of life open to serendipitous happenings, moving from place to place, leaving behind one culture for another, or taking one culture to another. Each day Scharff trusted that the next day would again bring a bounty of people and newly collected papers. The artist likens her art to that made by cave people, who fashioned their creations from the barest of materials, yet still made art.
The most important aspects of her journeys are: how her simple lifestyle allows her to find profound humanity in a kaleidoscope of experiences; how in her small way, she is an explorer expecting to find the best in people no matter what their culture; how in her travels she always encounters other artists; and how people who could not communicate with her through words, could speak through art. Therefore, Scharff’s visual art can be exhibited globally and has found a voice in exhibitions (as well as a BBC documentary) in several Asian countries. But the art alone can only partially tell the entire story, or convey the depth of personal experiences her travels have garnered.
Robert Rauschenberg said of his art that he wanted to make work that existed “between art and life.” It is impossible to sever the thread of Scharff’s life from the collages she creates, or from whatever she creates. This is one case where it is no mere cliché to say that her life and art are inseparable.