The Easiest Low(forehead): 25 Years of L.A.’s Merry Karnowsky Gallery

Merry Karnowsky Gallery’s early years have been in a 900-square-foot house on the second one flooring of a development on S. L. a. Brea, which already had a wealthy historical past within the L.A. artwork scene. Between 1997 and 2003, she crammed each and every little bit of the ones 900 sq. toes with exhibitions via dozens of artists who would pass directly to turn into icons of a brand new illustration- and street-inflected motion everybody used to name Lowbrow. Mythical purveyors of richly detailed, lavishly stylized, intensely colourful, narrative and symbolism-packed selection visions like Todd Schorr, Becca, Kent Williams (again on the gallery this September), Coop, Erik Brunetti, Richard Colman, Jim Houser, Dalek (James Marshall), Pals With You, Toshio Saeki, Keiti Ota, Mark Ryden, and extra, got here thru that first fierce little house — a lot of whom Merry is operating with, nonetheless or once more, 25 years later.


“My occupation as a gallerist has been a ravishing ongoing experiment. After I first opened, there was once resistance to “excessive “and “low” tradition mixing in combination in a severely professional method,” Karnowsky tells L.A. Weekly. “I’ve at all times sought after to carry house for artists with a transparent imaginative and prescient, ability, and backbone that demanding situations the established order slightly than serves it. I’m very happy with the truth that most of the artists I’ve helped nurture over time have grown and thrived organically with little or no preliminary endorsement from the artwork global gatekeepers. It displays the ability of artwork to attach and resonate with folks in an overly natural, visceral, and sustainable method.”

merry karnowsky gallery

Dalek (KP Tasks)

It was once when she moved to a 1,500-square-foot floor flooring house in 2004, the whole 3,000 sq. toes of which she later totally took over and occupied till 2015, that issues began to get noisier. On the gallery, she was once running with much more artists who have been destined for greatness — Shepard Fairey, Camille Rose Garcia, Mark Whalen, Tara McPherson, Deedee Cheriel, Edward Walton Wilcox, Greg “Craola” Simkins, Johnny KMNDZ Rodriguez, Travis Louie, Andrew Hem, Audrey Kawasaki, and plenty of others. All over the ones years, she ceaselessly created strains down the block (and noticed people hopping fences and sneaking in in the course of the alley) for sold-out displays and e-book signings with Craola, Garcia, and Fairey — and later, extra strains down L. a. Brea for the primary of her blockbuster Vivian Maier images exhibitions.

VC: Come Play with Us, fiberglass, 48x24x12 in (KP Tasks)

“Younger artists have been fixated on method, and that led to an unorthodox revival of the normal craft of portray and drawing — one thing that artwork colleges were seeking to exorcize out in their scholars,” says Karnowsky. “It was once a motion swimming towards the present, and I noticed its price,” she says. “I sought after to lend a hand push and beef up this necessary surreptitious shift in our sense of what’s stunning, well-made, and critical, which is strictly what just right artwork will have to do.”


Very long time gallery Affiliate Director Jessica O’Dowd consents. “To suppose, 14 years later, what I’ve skilled and observed of the L.A. artwork global — it could have blown my thoughts on the time. What I acknowledge maximum strongly is the undercurrent of continuing exchange and innovation. Now not most effective did Merry get started her gallery from inside of a spot of counterculture and recent relevance, however I’ve watched her proceed to modify what that aesthetic way, each contextually and visually, for the creditors and the artists she nurtures and helps. I feel that’s why Merry and I paintings so nicely in combination. The working out that no matter has to occur and whomever has to do it, the display maximum actually will have to pass on.”

Shepard Fairey (Courtesy of the artist)

In all probability the most efficient recognized gallery alum could be one Shepard Fairey, an artist of multidimensional renown; and Fairey informed the L.A. Weekly about how their stunning friendship started. “I discovered about Merry Karnowsky’s gallery and the roster of artists I admired whilst residing in San Diego within the overdue 90’s. After I’d make the power to place posters up in L.A., I’d steadily take a look at Merry’s exhibitions and throw a couple of posters up on L. a. Brea, hoping to catch her eye as a result of I used to be too shy to invite without delay for a display in her gallery. I suppose the tactic labored as a result of in 2000, Merry introduced me a twin display with Ron English, a chum whose billboard liberation paintings was once an enormous affect on me. Since I most effective made prints on paper at that time, Merry inspired me to push my fabrics additional, leading to my first prints on patinated aluminum plates. The display was once a very powerful development for me, however the gross sales have been modest — but Merry nonetheless invited me to turn in combination many extra instances over time… fortunately with expanding luck.”

Shepard Fairey (KP Tasks)

In 2011 Fairey’s “continual poster bombing” within the space close to Merry’s gallery led to Merry suggesting to the builders of the previous Continental Graphics development at second and L. a. Brea that he paint a mural wrapping across the development. “Appearing in Merry’s gallery whilst portray a big mural at the identical block felt like without equal embodiment of my ‘within/out of doors technique,’” Shepard says. “Merry, thanks for enabling that, supporting my artwork on many fronts, and being a chum for over twenty years. Maximum of all, congratulations for appearing and nurturing robust and necessary artwork and artists for 30 years. It’s a difficult industry, however you do it with taste and style.”

Jeff Soto: The Sundown, 2022 (KP Tasks)

Jeff Soto, some other absolute legend to return in the course of the gallery, recollects finding Merry Karnowsky Gallery as a pupil. “Behind Juxtapoz mag that they had addresses of galleries, smartly sectioned off via town, and I’d attempt to discuss with as many as I may just in L.A. Merry’s gallery was once a will have to discuss with!,” he tells the Weekly. “I used to be a lot too shy to invite to turn my paintings, however I did talk to her a handful of instances. I consider summoning up some bravery and asking her concerning the rubylith cut-outs in a Shepard Fairey showcase. We had a super discuss his procedure, and she or he was once so great. Merry gave the impression if truth be told inquisitive about discussing artwork. She needed to know I used to be now not there to shop for the rest. Nonetheless, she took the time. That supposed one thing to me, and I nonetheless respect it 20 years later. She made me really feel welcome, in contrast to a few of the ones chilly and snobby galleries!”

Bunnie Reiss (KP Tasks)

O’Dowd is happy with holding this welcoming power going as a part of the gallery’s id. “Probably the most first compliments Merry ever gave me was once telling me, ‘I in point of fact like that you simply in finding those creditors which might be folks you wouldn’t suppose have been essentially going to shop for one thing, after which all at once you’ve been great to them they usually’ve purchased some $10,000 piece.’ And I used to be like nicely, that’s the complete level! We’re in Los Angeles, don’t make that judgment. Other folks at all times say thanks such a lot, you have been so great to speak to me; and I say nicely, you’re right here in individual and all of us love artwork. That’s why we’re right here. So we’re going to speak about artwork!”


“That’s in point of fact necessary to me, in my opinion,” says Merry. “No person will ever really feel unwelcome getting into this house.” And that welcoming angle, that willingness to training and consciousness of championing one thing that was once new to maximum within the mainstream artwork global, resulted within the gallery changing into an epicenter of the motion and one of those bridge from the road to the ivory tower. Twenty-five years later, most of the identical artists and undoubtedly the similar core aesthetic continues to be the motive force of this system — even supposing nobody calls it Lowbrow anymore.

Andrew Hem (KP Tasks)

“I feel that was once probably the most tougher issues to wrap my head round,” says Karnowsky. “As it’s been very intuitive and it’s been very herbal to me, and I more or less need to step again and say, why is it herbal to me? What was once my enchantment to this paintings all about? As it’s a distinction to me as an individual. Despite the fact that I’m slightly quieter and I’m introverted, I love paintings that’s the other of me. I love paintings that’s form of colourful and difficult, perhaps in some way that may put across issues that I don’t put across. However there’s power in that essential connection that I feed off of.”

Masakatsu Sashie (KP Tasks)

Karnowsky does really feel that her Jap mom, who would have information novelettes that got here from Japan the place there could be a major tale about air air pollution subsequent to a demonstration with cool animated film imagery or manga, the place, “there wasn’t as a lot of a difference between the low and high, and cartoons informed very critical tales, continuously in incredible techniques the use of allegory; they have been poignant and entertaining on the identical time. I feel I inherited this aesthetic culturally, and most likely the openness that is going together with it. I gravitate to paintings this is narrative, pictorial, painterly, excessive in craft and element, skillful, difficult, funny, and attractive.”

Audrey Kawasaki (KP Tasks)

And whilst being a woman-owned artwork gallery was once now not specifically distinctive when she began, there have been many fewer girls within the Lowbrow and road areas. “One time, in point of fact early on, this very more or less high-powered lawyer got here and he was once taking a look on the paintings and he was once taking a look at me, and he mentioned one thing like, Why do you display such boyish art work? And I used to be speechless and I believed to myself, Neatly, is it that boyish? As a result of I’m a tomboy, I performed sports activities, I were given on skateboards, I did the whole thing boys may just do. However the truth that the style was once so categorised, it simply made me wish to be extra of a illustration for different girls and women who would possibly really feel the similar factor that I do once they have a look at this art work. So if I’m a feminine gallerist representing this paintings, that’s an access for different girls like me.”

Leave out Van (KP Tasks)

Mel Kadel (KP Tasks)

Becca, who first become recognized for her road paintings, was once probably the most first artists the place Karnowsky noticed her paintings in the street, and began to place the phrase out, in point of fact in quest of her out. “I in the end were given to satisfy her and talked to her, and confirmed her early on,” Karnowsky says, “and she or he was once this feminine road artist that had plastered those women with smeared lipstick and boxing gloves all over. I confirmed her for a just right period of time, and I feel that’s more or less the place the stability was once — a feminine artist working in a male-dominated house, making paintings that spoke to her personal tale. It represented in many ways how I considered myself and about this system.”

Camille Rose Garcia, Serpents, 2021 (KP Tasks, Picture via Birdman)

“Running with Merry over time has been unbelievable for plenty of causes, however probably the most issues I love maximum is form of small,” Camille Rose Garcia tells the Weekly. “At the day I ship the display to her, after years of labor, and last-minute varnishing and riding the paintings in my opinion 600 miles, her response to the art work after I unwrap them and lean them towards the wall is so authentic and transferring. It’s like we’re two teenage women finding The Conflict for the primary time in some folks’ basement. That’s the extent of pleasure within the room. And it wasn’t simply the primary time I confirmed along with her, it’s each and every time. Each and every time is that degree of appreciation and authentic pleasure about what I’m bringing in. And I don’t suppose I knew how uncommon that was once till I confirmed with many different galleries over time, and it’s most definitely the article I ignored probably the most the years I didn’t have displays along with her. Her enthusiasm about artwork is in reality infectious, and it makes it so pleasant, in spite of everything that tough paintings.”

Jennybird Alcantara (KP Tasks)

Jennybird Alcantara additionally appreciates what running with Merry is like for an artist. “Everyone knows Merry is a legend, however till I were given to grasp her on a non-public degree, I didn’t understand she’s equivalent measures badass, just right listener, type, and humorous, too,” she stocks. “Merry has a calmness about her this is very reassuring to the continuously impassioned or subtle sensibilities of an artist. Certainly one of my favourite issues to do with Merry is snicker, I in truth couldn’t inform you a precise tale that we’ve laughed about, however as I call to mind her now, I will be able to listen her joyous laughter, and it makes me smile.”

Todd Schorr (KP Tasks)

“When the best partnership with a gallery occurs on the proper time, magic can occur,” says Merry. “I give a large number of credit score to the artists themselves for having the power and integrity to place themselves available in the market, after which working out the worth of the partnership with a gallery and respecting what a gallery brings to the desk. I believe in point of fact thankful for having nice partnerships with artists over time who’ve been now not most effective running relationships, however lasting friendships.”

Johnny KMNDZ Rodriguez (KP Tasks)

“The day I were given invited to turn with Merry is as visual in my head now because it was once the day I gained the decision from my pal Johnny “KMNDZ” Rodriguez, asking if that was once one thing I’d be inquisitive about,” Greg “Craola” Simkins recollects. “INTERESTED IN?! Appearing at Merry Karnowsky Gallery was once on my bucket checklist! Ten years later or extra, and we have now not anything however love for Merry.”


It’s unattainable to checklist all of the highlights of gallery and an increasing number of museum tasks that experience illuminated Merry Karnowsky/KP Tasks Gallery’s roster over time — Camille Rose Garcia at San Jose Museum of Artwork in 2007; Todd Schorr’s display there in 2009; Shepard Fairey’s huge Boston ICA Display; the vastly formidable MACRO (Museum of Fresh Artwork Rome) exhibition with Tara McPherson, Nicola Verlato, Mark Whalen, Camille Rose Garcia, Todd Schorr, Kathy Staico Schorr; Schorr once more, on the Aldrich Museum in 2013; a significant crew exhibition on the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico Town in 2018-19 — however one of the crucial maximum attention-grabbing are probably the most surprising.

Henri Dauman: Elvis with Colonel Parker (KP Tasks)

In September of 2011, the gallery offered an off-site curatorial mission downtown — 5 Lite —with the overdue, nice painter Ed Moses as curator, and that includes Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Laddie John Dill and Robert Wilhite in a display of 5 eminent buddies. “Those have been stellar mega-artists keen to turn with a gallerist who had little to do with their global,” recollects Merry. “I’d recognized Cedd Moses for a very long time, and he got here to me pronouncing, ‘I’ve talked to my dad about you and he is aware of of you, what you’ve performed, and he in point of fact respects it. And I wish to do one thing with this empty storefront. I need us to have amusing.’ I’ve felt in point of fact appreciative that there were individuals who have relied on me to do one thing attention-grabbing out of doors the field, and produce perhaps a unique target audience and blend issues up. I simply really feel so thankful having the chance to speak to a few of these folks which might be so good, and so worldly and so gifted. Larry Bell is the warmest individual. It was once superb, you recognize, as a result of I began to speak to him concerning the artwork display, and he was once like, ‘Oh yeah, I in point of fact love comedian e-book artwork!’”

Kent Williams (KP Tasks)

It was once the similar factor with running at Tamara Bane Gallery again within the ‘90s, with Robert Williams. “As a result of Robert’s this man that comes off like, golly, ‘I’m Bob, I’m only a painter,’ after which he begins rapping all of the shit that he is aware of about artwork, historical past and tradition and automobiles, and persons are simply blown away. How are you able to now not love this guy?” she says. “After which, seeing an exhibition the place Nicholas Cage is promoting his watches to shop for Robert’s art work, and Anthony Kiedis and Deborah Harry are on a waitlist of 300 folks! I’ve a different courting with Robert and his spouse Suzanne, who’re in point of fact floor 0 for my love and appreciation of Lowbrow. Seeing Helter Skelter at MOCA with him in it together with artists like Manuel Ocampo, Lynn Foulkes, Paul McCarthy — that was once a formative second for me.”

Steven Gilmore (KP Tasks)

Possibly that profound lifelong degree of emotional involvement is why the gallery made each and every effort to stick open up to conceivable all through COVID, even way back to Fall of 2020. “I don’t know the way someone decided to not keep open,” Merry says. “Truthfully, it by no means took place to me. I imply, we did some pivots with regards to getting a nicer web page. We began to determine it out; we attempted to do extra interactive issues. However I don’t see how you’ll be able to work from home and constitute artwork. Additionally, I feel, for psychological balance, for me and for Jessica, we’re employees. That is what we do, and so we wish to be within the component the place we’re impressed. There are worse puts to be than to flee to the gallery. Plus, whilst you’re chargeable for folks and you’ve got artists which might be in point of fact scared, that’s when my instincts kicked in like: no, we’re transferring ahead, we will be able to do it slightly bit. There’s going to be delays, however no, we need to put our very best foot ahead now and display those that artwork is necessary, even in those instances — perhaps extra necessary than some of these instances.”

Vonn Sumner (KP Tasks)

Possibly that’s a part of why she let people communicate her into celebrating the twenty fifth anniversary — particularly with the enormous crew display recently on the gallery thru August 27, that includes artists from her as soon as and present program — even supposing she’s now not in my opinion partial to the highlight. “It in point of fact is making my 12 months for one thing that I shied clear of celebrating,” she says. “Everyone was once pushing me, all of the those that I care about, and now I in point of fact respect it!’

Merry Karnowsky Gallery’s twenty fifth Anniversary display is on view at KP Tasks, 633 N. L. a. Brea in Hollywood, till August 27, with a ultimate reception at the night of Saturday, August 27. Consult with kpprojectsgallery.web for more info.

Shepard Fairey: Decade, 2007 (KP Tasks)

Jimmy Danko (KP Tasks)

Travis Louis (KP Tasks)

Eric Nash (KP Tasks)












































































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Updated: August 25, 2022 — 3:39 pm