Scooter LaForge paid his dues and kept on painting

Artist Scooter LaForge in his studio working with an unusual brush.
Artist Scooter LaForge in his studio working with an unusual brush.
Artist Scooter LaForge in his studio working with an unusual brush. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | Artist Scooter LaForge moved to New York from San Francisco in 2001, one month after 9/11. Much of the evolution of his art is the result of two things: art critic/educator Peter Schjedahl and New York City itself.

After college in Tucson, LaForge spent 10 years making art — and working various odd jobs — in San Francisco. He then made the move to New York City, where he was accepted at The Cooper Union. It was there that he studied with Schjedahl, who gave him the marching orders that freed him from his self-imposed limitations.

“In San Francisco I was painting very small, with tiny brushes,” LaForge explained. “Schjedahl made me throw away those brushes and paint big.”

Artist Scooter LaForge with hand-painted vessels in his studio.

It wasn’t easy for him at first, but he soon realized it was the right move.

“Now I paint what I feel, rather than what I see,” he said.

Meanwhile, he immediately fell in love with the city.

“There is nothing like it anywhere,” he said. “The variety of people here, the personalities, the languages, the buildings! My scope of vision opened immensely.”

Artist Scooter LaForge in his studio with works in progress.

He absorbed, among other things, what he called the “certain style of New York’s Abstract Expressionism,” as well as the pop art aesthetic of Claes Oldenburg. The result was a style that combined aggressive adult energy with naive, childlike subject matter and forays into sculpture and homoerotica.

While getting his bearings in a new city where he knew no one, LaForge painted steadily while working a series of retail jobs. Starting at Earl Jean, he moved on to a successful stint at Marc Jacobs and then to Jimmy Choo, where he was their top salesperson. He worked on a number of Barney’s windows, as well, while slowly building momentum in the art world.

Artist Scooter LaForge in his East Village apartment, under one of his canvases, with a hand-painted wall.

After being shown in various group shows, bars and “anything that came along,” LaForge was given his first show, by the late, very lamented Hattie Hathaway (Brian Butterick), at the former Rapture Cafe, on Avenue A between 12th and 13th Sts. His first solo show at a gallery was at the also-now-defunct Munch Gallery, where he met Jane Friedman, the current executive director of the Howl! Happening gallery, at 6 E. First St., the location of his upcoming show.

“We clicked immediately,” LaForge recalled. “I didn’t know anything about her, except that she loved my work. She is a huge champion of my work.”

The artist is quick to recall others who have helped him along the way, such as Stephanie Theodore of the Theodore:Art gallery, who has been selling his work for 10 years now.

“I connected with him because he wasn’t trying to be anything but what he was,” Theodore said. “Candor is not the most fashionable thing to encounter in contemporary art.”

Scooter LaForge, kneeling in center, with friends.

LaForge noted that one of his biggest breaks came in 2006 when a blog called East Village Boys wrote him up, putting him “on the map.” It was around that time that he began selling silkscreened T-shirts at Patricia Field — for $10 each — when the eponymous store’s owner took notice. Field commissioned him to paint on hats, dresses and coats, beginning a partnership that continues to the present. He has collaborated with Field regularly for events that extend around the world.

“We became close friends — like family,” LaForge said. His hand-painted garments have been seen on the likes of Madonna, Beyonce and Debbie Harry, but Field’s shop is still the only place where one can buy them.

His newest work — influenced by his travels to Tel Aviv, Greece and Italy — uses classical Greek motifs for the first time. The mural-sized pieces feel like a big leap for LaForge. But don’t expect the artist to spell it all out for you.

“I want people to look at the paintings and take away what they see, not what I tell them to see,” he explained.

Standing in his studio — surrounded by the largest canvases he has produced to date — LaForge mused on the nature of being an artist in New York City.
“You don’t have overnight success in New York,” he said. “You have to pay your dues. You have to wait in a very long line, and no one gets to cut the line.

He paused, then added, “After almost 20 years, I still feel new here.”

Scooter LaForge unveils “Homo Eruptus” at the Howl! Happening gallery, at 6 E. First St., on Thurs., Feb. 14, Opening reception from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.