The name Ed Hardy immediately evokes images of tattooed baseball tees with cartoon skulls and studded baseball hats worn by reality TV stars. But before artist Don Ed Hardy became one of the most polarizing brands in history, he was a young aspiring artist whose favorite past time was going down to the beach in Southern California and looking at classic cars. He eventually went on to study under legendary Japanese tattoo artist Horihide, an experience that had a profound influence on Hardy’s signature, ornate style. Today, Hardy is retired from tattooing, instead focused on non-tattoo based art like printmaking, drawing, and painting. This also includes new porcelain works and tapestries in his upcoming exhibition curated by Varnish Fine Art gallery in San Francisco, “Visionary Subversive”. The exhibition sees Hardy returning to his roots with a particularly strong Japanese aesthetic, where he revives elements from his 500 foot-long scroll painting of 2000 dragons. “The freedom, sweep, and spontaneity of that work radically changed my outlook and approach to art,” Hardy says. “I just let the ink “do the talking”, shattering shapes, fusing references of clouds, wind, stripes, and pure motion.” Whirlwind forms of dragons and other creatures like winged panthers and tigers are spontaneously integrated throughout. We find them in energetic drawings, abstract “Tiger Rug inspired” tapestries of their coat patterns, and in “tattooed” pieces of folded porcelain works made in collaboration with Hardy’s assistant and sculptor Trevor Ewald. With so many pieces spanning several years of Hardy’s recent career, the exhibit is also a memoir of sorts. It serves to remind us, whether we love or hate his brand, that there is an artist behind the famous name who continues to experiment and create. “I make this kind of work to surprise myself, drawing consciously and unconsciously on all that I’ve seen and made. I’m grateful to have reached this “journey into the unknown” stage where any narrative is embedded in the work itself and open to interpretation,” he says.
Ed Hardy’s “Visionary Subversive” opens on October 5th, and will be on view at the The Midway (Varnish Fine Art Pop-Up Space) through November 2nd, 2015. Artist receptions will be held on October 29th and November 2nd.