Sam Scharf

The man takes up all of the chair in the tiny kitchen. Samuel Dylan Scharf, for the record, has agreed to speak to me about his work, his loves and his drive to make art under the conditions of strong whiskey and hard questions. I have attempted to parse him with both from my private stock of Irish spirits and Irish spirit. He held up quite well to over two hours of recorded conversation, never threatening violence even once, except a brief moment of name calling that involved Jeff Koons and Louise Bourgeois; his spelling of all names during the interview were and remain accurate.

On the surface Mr. Scharf is a bully of a man, large for his age and strong in the upper body while buoyed by timberess legs. This is not to cast him as someone who would subconsciously use his physicality as a tool, and yet that is exactly how he behaves. His work ranges from large heroic sculptures to light intricate needle work. He is a self-identified project-based artist and curator who allows the context of the idea to drive the decisions of his making. His work, like most physical work, is best experienced in person and occupies space in a variety of dynamic and engaging ways. He clogs corners of galleries with chiseled plywood (as in Torn Down, 2013), or completely inhibits pedestrian traffic patterns, as in his In Your Way of 2012.

In Your Way_Scharf

In Your Way {2012} Sam Scharf

The latter piece was installed in the rotunda of American University in Washington DC, reforming the decisions of everyone entering the space without overtly insulting their needs. Much like Richard Serra’s ill-fated Tilted Arc (1981-89) Scharf’s piece succeeded at providing a striking visual reevaluation of a common space overlooked yet perhaps over used.

American University bestowed a masters degree on Scharf in 2013, a period during which he also co-curated a successful gallery, Delicious Spectacle, with frequent collaborator and love interest Megan Mueller. They were joined in the endeavor by Victoria Greising, Camden Perkins and Dan Perkins. Delicious Spectacle hosted some of the most innovative and engaging art events in the DC area. Many people including correspondents for the mainstream media experienced art at the Columbia Heights venue, and also sampled the snacks.

In late 2013 Scharf and Mueller loaded their respective art practices into a small van and undertook the classic road-movie adventure of traveling cross country to remind themselves what they were fighting for. They arrived in Santa Barbara in the fall of 2013 and launched immediately into the art community they found there. The transition from east to west coast has proved informative and exciting. Scharf has rapidly begun a discourse with area artists, digging in for purchase on the scene. His strengths are much coveted among his new peers and his language has added to an active growing culture fight.


Torn Down {2013} Sam Scharf

His work and views [on such work] walk the line between commodity and commotion. He has had a good deal of success selling his work at an auction house but yearns for a more functional platform to produce and channel his work. Much of his drive hinges around the communication he has with viewers. He explained to me over ice and whiskey:

{I’m most excited about work that supports the viewer in the experience as opposed to leaving them out in the cold trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I think there is a sweet spot in between something being too artsy-crafty, but then on the flipside too intelligentsia… somewhere in between there, I want the non art viewer to walk up to the piece and get an experience and I want the academic to walk up and get an experience.}

Scharf shows this time and again as he builds out structures like his recent Growth (2013) installed at the Martin Luther King Library in DC. The structure was built in the primary lobby out of commonplace building materials. The form was reminiscent of a Bucky Fuller structure but slightly askew. The key component was the surface treatment of the panels covering the structure, on which Scharf printed the duplicate pattern of the marble slabs ever-present throughout the lobby. The resulting piece, at a short distance, appeared to be marble slabs pried from the floor and haphazardly stacked up to create a child’s fort. I imagine the piece was magnetic to library visitors and would have caused a great deal of conversation across a massive striation of demographics. Scharf provides access points for a variety of viewers, leaving intact a place for us (the viewer) to build upon.


Growth {2013} Sam Scharf

His work most often exists as physical objects. Our discussion traveled into the contentious realm of flat or formed work, a.k.a. painting vs. sculpture. Like many in his generation he is compelled to function outside the confines of medium, explaining:


Artworker {2013} Sam Scharf


Artworker, detail {2013} Sam Scharf

{I have clearly chosen a path of sculptural production… I don’t get the, “I’m suppose to commit to drawing for forty years to become a really great draftsman,” I’m not interested. It doesn’t impress me. I’m more interested in how they can use paint, period…in a way to convey an idea. And get that idea across to the viewer, and not just kind of, for lack of a better term, you know just masturbate how well they can use a medium. I’m not interested in that, so I wouldn’t make work that has that conversation and I end up getting in this argument a lot with people who are medium based who will default to “well I don’t see any similarities in your (Scharf’s) medium. I don’t see any kind of style here, I’m really finding it hard to grab onto anything.” Which is the most base entry into artwork: the medium.  I think it’s what gets us into this conversation about “sculpture vs. painting” or the history of painting conversation…or the conversation of how photography is still relevant…or is painting still relevant? All of them are. I love painters, I grew up painting…It also keeps me on my toes in my own mediums as well. I think making a stance of what you like and why you like it is important, hopefully for your artist friends to really have that battle… with each other because that battle is what keeps us moving forward and progressing and also kinda fortified in our own decisions. I will not be able to talk some of my painter friends out of making a painting for sure, but I’ll tell you what, I get real excited when I am in a painter’s studio and I see that sculpture in the corner that they didn’t even know they were making, and I want to show that when I am curating. I lean toward that, that’s my own bias, I understand that fully.}

Scharf has decided to move his entire perspective, migrating West like many before him but in the midst of a digital age. He still finds himself shipping work back to shows and auctions in his previous region but he is determined to find a new story to tell in this environment. His work functions at it’s best when it is responsive and agile in meaning and thought, which is convenient because that is how you will find Scharf. He is both nimble and sure of foot with a solid sense of gravity. He continues to curate and provide studio visits to other artists in his new community. Many local arts organizations are getting their first taste of his creative and organizational prowess.

The story he will develop over the next few years will be an interesting one about change and the evolution of communication. He will learn and then develop a new creative dialect, which will undoubtedly emerge in his work. Location is not the only driving force inside an artist like Scharf, but he has proven adept at shifting regions, from his childhood confines in central Florida, to the political hotbed of our nations capital, now to the decidedly deceptive luxuries of the Californian Riviera. Sam Scharf has some things to say, and if we are lucky, we will get to listen for a long time to come.


Learn more about Sam Scharf @

Patrick Melroy maintains a studio practice in Santa Barbara, California, USA. He lectures on Art and culture internationally and can be reached through his website or

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