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In the Studio with Tom Everhart

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Overlooking Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Tom Everhart's home, which doubles as his studio, has until recently been filled with a series of colorful paintings.

Now, though, many of those works have been shipped to Animazing Gallery in New York City to debut in Everhart's newest show "Crashing the Party."

For more than two decades, the artist has been inspired by the "Peanuts" comic strip characters. His brightly colored works show Snoopy barking, or lying on his back, against a technicolor background. Snoopy and Charlie Brown rest their foreheads together in a pensive pose.

Of course, "Peanuts" characters are copyrighted. Not just anyone can have a New York art show featuring Snoopy. But Everhart is not the typical Peanuts fan. Instead, Everhart claims that the series and its creator, Charles Schultz, saved his life.

As a young artist, Everhart picked up a freelance job working on Charles Schulz' cartoon work – even though he had no knowledge about Schulz or how to draw cartoons.

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"I told people that I knew about his work, that I knew how to draw cartoons, which was not true at all," Everhart said.

Learning to copy Schulz did not initially go well, but in a last ditch effort, Everhart used a projector to enlarge an image, and he could suddenly see how the lines were actually fluid brushstrokes, he said. Within a short time Everhart's work caught Schulz's eye.

"He took me by the hand out of the meeting and took me to his studio for eight hours where we did nothing but draw lines," Everhart said. "He taught me all day. And I learned more from him than all the years I spent in school."

Everhart and Schulz's relationship grew into a strong friendship, and when Schulz passed away in 2001, he left the rights to the Peanuts characters to Everhart for the term of his life.

""What do you do with a gift like that? I had no choice. I still have no choice," Everhart said.

"Most people don't know why this work is being made. The work is all about my life, not Peanuts. Learning Schulz' visual language gave me the opportunity, in a new way, to do work of my life," he said.

In 1983, fellow artist Jean-Michel Basquiat invited Everhart to Venice, where Basquiat had a studio along Market Street. Basquiat moved away, but Everhart found a small studio space in 1986, so that he could continue to visit and paint in Venice. In 1997, he moved into his current location.

In 1988, just before Basquiat's funeral in New York, Everhart paid a visit to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for stomach pains. Tests revealed that he had stage four liver and colon cancer, and Everhart was scheduled for emergency surgery.

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Everhart had two, 10-hour surgeries and doctors told him he had only two years to live. Everhart turned to his work to get through.

"The closest analogy I can think of is when you fall in love. You're just consumed. I forgot I had cancer. I would do the chemotherapy, come out and throw up, but that was it," Everhart said.

"[Peanuts] saved my life. I'm living 22 years longer than expected, and nobody knows why," Everhart said.

Everhart now enjoys daily bike rides to the Palisades where he finds inspiration, including an idea for crayon dots, which he got from the impression of losing the shadows from the city and moving into the open shadows that play on the beach.

"Crashing the Party," his new show, features 95 of Everhart's latest "arty-fact" paintings. This is his largest show to date, and it focuses on the ideas of isolation and overpopulation.

" If you're not showing someone a new way of seeing, if you're not learning from it, it's not alive, and I can't classify it as art," Everhart said.

Animazing Gallery at 54 Greene Street in New York City hosted the opening reception for Everhart's new show on Saturday. The show will continue on through June 26.

By Matt Branham
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