Catching Up with SHARK TOOF
By Lori Zimmer
The first time I saw Shark Toof’s–or David Lew’s–work on the streets I giggled with delight. I watched from a café across the street, as people interacted with the giant wheat pasted shark that threatened to munch on passersby. Nearly every group of people stopped, posing under the big jaws for cell phone photos. Aside from being fun, his work stood out to me because rather than tagging his name all over the place, he tags sharks. This simple switch-off genially gets his name out there, while coming off as less offensive to store owners who aren’t always a fan of graffiti.
There is so much “street art” out there now, on the streets, in galleries, in advertisements, that it takes a lot to hold my interest, and David’s pieces always do. I always notice them in New York, or when traveling, and always smile without realizing it. Meeting him just made me love him more; he is a kind hearted free spirit that can always be counted on for a good time, but also exudes the sincerity of an artist that doesn’t clamor over others’ backs to reach the top.
David is no dummy, and understands the difference between the streets and gallery work. While his giant wheat pasted sharks dominate walls, his gallery work is more fine-tuned. Retro-feeling collages reference pop culture and science fiction. His paintings mesh the same qualities of fantasy and fiction, fusing carnal animal elements with human, in full rich color. He also does live painting. I watched along with hundreds at this year’s Basel Castle as he and Beau Stanton brought blank walls to life while bands and DJs played.
I was especially excited when my friend (and former PMc Mag cover girl) Marne Lucas asked for David’s contact info to photograph him while on a trip to LA. He happily obliged, and she’s shared her fantastic portraits with us. I spoke with David on his place in the art world, his transition from street to gallery, and what it’s like to be so incredibly awesome.
Lori Zimmer: When did you first conceive of your iconic shark persona/imagery? Had you been dabbling in other imagery first?
Shark Toof: I came up with the Shark Toof name and icon in the fall of 2006, haphazardly drawing in the back of a car on my to go camping in Mammoth. It started out as a joke with really basic sharpie drawings of angry triangles which looked like angry KKK Klansmen. I did my research and had been paying close attention to the streets of Los Angeles and abroad as to names and imagery already being used. Other images came to mind but were clearly too complicated to be effective in a graffiti and street format.
LZ: Why sharks? How do they help you convey your message?
ST: I’m a bit old school and my main concern was if my tag was ever “dissed,” what could I come back with as a better diss. So I envisioned painting a giant shark head eating the persons tag. Aside from basic street mentality, I realized when doing several drawings that the icon had a strong triangular composition and can easily be recognized from a distance. On top of simple aesthetics, the shark is so many things physically, spiritually, and emotionally. We fear them and yet drawn to their power, independence, and mystery. They are really a reflection of ourselves.
LZ: Your first monograph is coming out! Congratulations! Has that been a benchmark for you?
ST: Thank you. Yes, it will basically be a pictorial summation of a girls-gone-wild-exorcist five-year journey of going hard on the streets and in the galleries. After sifting through hundreds of photos, it’s insane to realize how much work, close calls, late late nights, hospital visits, romances, bromances, politicing, hating, loving, nudity, and drinking went on. I’m very fortunate that Kirk Pedersen at Zero+ Publishing finds redeeming value in being a complete adolescent.
LZ: I love how people interact with your street pieces; they always make me laugh or smile. There are so many images out there of people reacting to and playing with your murals. Did you have that in mind when you created them?
ST: Growing up, my parents were huge fans of road trips and monuments. A good example is stopping by good ol’ Split Pea Andersen’s on your way to Solvang. You poke your head through the hole cut outs for a photo op as if magically transformed into a silly 16th century Swedish family. It’s awesome. I paint the large sharks to be a destination for photo ops. They are meant to invite and not remove. Keeping it sexy helps draw participation.
LZ: How do you personally differ from your work on the street to in the gallery?
ST: My street work serves as a conduit to a much larger podium. I don’t want to simply advertise. I’m trying to go against the formula of ‘here it is on the streets, and now here it is for purchase’. My belief is now that I’ve got your intimate attention by drawing you into the gallery, these are the issues I’m addressing. I think there are more similarities than differences in my work on the streets and in the gallery. It’s deeper than just the subject matter or imagery. The spray paint, brush strokes, textures, glazing, and overall mood is my signature.
LZ: What’s more fun for you–street or the gallery?
ST: Both are equally fun as long as I’m able to do whatever I want. I approach both the street and the gallery purposefully and am always hyper-aware of spatial relationships and how my work activates that space or surface. I don’t simply just hang work, put a poster up, or catch a tag.
LZ: What or who has been inspiring you lately?
ST: Not to sound like a tree hugger, but nature consistently inspires me. We as a species try so hard to control and stifle nature with rules, laws, guilt, shame, and religion, and we can’t. Hence, my last solo show titled “Nature Will Always Win.” Animals and all living things work with nature, we emphatically and ignorantly work against nature.
LZ: Who are some of your favorites, past or present?
ST: Here’s the list: Dude who designed the Ghostbuster’s logo, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Gary Larson Far Side comics (which I’m almost certain a super famous street artist got his irony and humor from), all comic books, Vaughn Bode, KGB, K2S, STN, KSN, CBS, KTL (with their satanic stencils), WCA, UTI, MAK, BYI, NASA, TNT, TAC, FN, TEMPT, Ray Turner, Rob and Chris Clayton, Dwight Harmon, Phil Hays, Bob Kato, Aaron Smith, Richard Bunkhall, Burne Hogarth, Robbie Conal, Kent Twitchell, Kienholz, Bast, Vasarely, Andrew Hem, David Jien, David Choe, Lister, Devin Strother, Roa, Patrick Martinez, Mark Jenkins, Os Gemeos, Ai Weiwei, BLU. I can fill an entire page…
LZ: What’s next for the Toof?
ST: Canvases, acrylic, walls, spray paint, meanstreaks, mops, oils, charcoal, sculptures, assemblages, markers, house paint, rollers, stencils, tags, bombs, scribes, wood, serigraph, collage, galleries, East coast, West coast, your coast.
Shark Toof–aka David Lew–is a gallery and street artist based in Los Angeles.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Edited by Meaghan Coffey
Photography by Marne Lucas
Design by Devon Pentz
Page 1: Photography by Marne Lucas
Pages 2- : Courtesy Shark Toof and LeBasse Projects