Long after Jackie Kennedy left her design mark on a Lockheed Jetstar used to transport high-profile military personnel, Kenny Scharf picked up a couple of hi-quality spray paint cans and added his own layer.
The L.A.-based artist has made a name for himself with large-scale paintings and installations based on pop-culture and science fiction, including cartoons popular during his childhood (The Jetsons, The Flintstones). He became a big name in the art -- both gallery and street -- scene in New York in the 80s and showed his work at The Whitney, Fun gallery, and in the apartment he shared with Keith Haring.
This past Saturday afternoon, Scharf took a break from painting his Lockheed Jetstar at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson to talk to the public about the future of The Boneyard Project alongside Eric Firestone and Carlo McCormick.
See also: - The Boneyard Project Continues: Curators Carlo McCormick and Eric Firestone and Artist Kenny Scharf to Visit MOCA Tucson This Weekend - The Bone Yard Project: When Planes Become Contemporary Art Canvases in the Tucson Desert - Watch this Motocross Video: DC/Robbie Maddison's AIR.CRAFT with Crazy Stunts at the Tucson Boneyard
The Boneyard Project launched a year ago by big-name New York curators Eric Firestone (who grew up in Tucson) and Carlo McCormick. The two invited dozens of internationally recognized contemporary artists to paint retired military aircraft and nose cones that they snatched out of a lot full of rusting planes called The Boneyard.
In January of 2012, the planes and nosecones were on view for the public at the Pima Air & Space Museum (located across the street from The Boneyard). While many of the nosecones returned to New York with Firestone, who currently operates a gallery in the East Hamptons, the planes remained parked at the museum. And according to Firestone and McCormick, planes will still be dragged out of lot, artists will still travel to Tucson to give them new paint jobs, and The Boneyard Project will continue for as long as they can sustain it.
"Financially, this project has been a disaster," says Firestone to a crowd of about 80 inside the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson on a Saturday afternoon in March. "But there is considerable institutional interest, and as a person who grew up in Tucson and comes back to Tucson on a regular basis, I'd like to see this project continue for decades and become a destination for contemporary art in Tucson."
Firestone says he recognizes the rehabbing and recycling of old planes is nothing new -- he saw artists and designers reappropriating scrap plane parts as art and design when he first became involved in the art scene in Tucson. But he says as the military starts to keep most of its technology and equipment for security and recycling purposes, The Boneyard will become a thing of the past.
"Of course we're paying homage to an age-old art form of decorating military planes," he says. "But we're also saving what could one day be obsolete or turned into beer cans."
McCormick says Scharf was one of the first artists he thought of including when he and Firestone first started the project.
"When we began a lot of this mischief by asking artists to paint on the noses of airplanes [as objects, rather than the whole planes], Kenny was the very first artist I thought of," McCormick told Jackalope Ranch before making the trip out to Tucson. "That's not just because he's a great artist -- there have been to my opinion many associated with this project -- but because his art is all about the promise and the optimism of the space age."
Scharf describes painting his Lockheed Jetstar as an "endurance project" -- by the time he's done, he will have spent four hot days in the sun painting a huge metal object that's rusting, full of hornets nests, and radiating heat. But he says it's also an experience he could only dream of.
"I walked up to the plane, looked at it, and started with the cone," says Scharf. "I've always been inspired by our fantasy of space travels and nose cone art -- they made a big imprint on me as a kid ... I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but part of the fun is not knowing the exacts and letting the surface dictate what I'm going to do. Painting the plane makes me think of flying."
Scharf says part of his process has been working with the jet's peeling paint and design commissioned by Jackie Kennedy in the 60s. According to Pima Air & Space Museum, the Jetstar was used to transport senators, congressmen, and the president. Much of Kennedy's original design has faded, but Scharf says he's still working with the original paint job.
"I love the plane's patina, its peeling paint, the rust," he says. "I'm definitely keeping that part of the story as a base."
Carlo McCormick has spent the past year and a half documenting and gathering research on art in aviation -- on military, personal, and commercial aircraft. He draws back to the first drawings of Icarus, who in Greek mythology was famous for taking the wings his father made him from feathers and wax and flying too close to the sun, resulting in his epic fall.
When flight became a reality for humans, the elevated views revolutionized perspective in artmaking, and as flight became militarized, young men who were drafted and flown around the world began to decorate and personalize the planes they flew.
"Humanity is driven to markmaking, which was only highlighted in times of military control and war, when people used art as a way to break out of the uniformity," says McCormick. "Our project continues that tradition and will hopefully become a destination for anyone who wants to see this work by contemporary artists on a massive scale."
Firestone and McCormick say the project will continue to evolve and include artists from around the world.
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Recently, a plane painted by a Belgian artist who goes by Roa was featured in a DC Shoe Company video promoting a new line by motocross star Robbie Maddison. (Though for the record, Firestone notes that Roa consented to have his work shown, but didn't want any of the compensation offered by DC or commercial involvement with the project.)
Scharf's plane is currently in an undisclosed area of the museum, but will be on view this summer, along with planes painted by How & Nosm, Nunca, Faile, Andrew Schoultz, Bast, and Retna.
For more information, check out the official Boneyard Project website.