Show takes 'Peanuts' imagery to art realm

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Artist Tom Everhart enjoyed a long friendship with cartoonist Charles Schulz and was educated in new ways to use his fine art training as he worked in the studio with the “Peanuts” cartoonist. Everhart was encouraged to carry forward Schulz’s comic strip creations into the fine art realm and has exhibited the resulting paintings throughout the world, including at the Louvre in Paris.

He will bring a new show, “Rollin With the Homies,” to Denver’s Fascination Street Fine Art from July 11 through August 19, appearing at the gallery from 6 to 9 p.m. July 19 during an opening reception and from 1 to 5 p.m. July 20. Everhart said it is a retrospective of his work as it evolved under Schulz’s influence and will only appear in Denver.

In a phone interview, he described early meetings with Schulz. “He took me to his studio and we drew lines: three straight, three fat, three wiggly. He taught me more about lines. When you looked at the same thing, you could see a difference, see things in a new way …”

He observed that “happy may be somewhat deceiving — the work may be more easily explained by what it doesn’t have.” He thinks Schulz’s line work bordered on abstract expressionism at times and talks about how the beloved cartoonist continually referred to Picasso’s multiple-view images, where you see front and side at the same time.

“He took you inside the strip — made you walk around,” Everhart said. Early Peanuts strips used perspective and backgrounds, but after 1960, he took it out and made you stay in the foreground, as did abstract painters of the 1960s.

Characters are two and a half heads tall, abstracted from the art school formula for drawing people at seven and a half heads tall. “He was always afraid to use the word ‘abstraction,’ thinking people wouldn’t understand.

“What Sparky (Schulz) did — he got me an agreement that I could respond to his paintings for life.”

Although the paintings are recognizable imagery, they have associated meanings, Everhart explains. “Does This Make Me Look Fat?” shows Snoopy blanketed with little flying Woodstocks. It actually speaks to overpopulation, the painter said.

“I try to approach his work with different kinds of marks. First, brush strokes. Then dots, circles … It had to evolve and grow, although the subject matter is the same. It feels like he’s alive for me …”

The original inspiration for the Schulz-related paintings came to Everhart when he was hospitalized, undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. He had a handful of Peanuts comic strips Schulz had sent him in his hands, illuminated by bright light from the window, which almost projected them onto the wall.

Schulz stressed that his paintings — and titles — must be different from the cartoons, involving Everhart’s insights and feelings. Each image can be recognized, but is very different. Lithographs of the paintings followed, at Schulz’s suggestion — as a way to get more work out for public view.

After Schulz’s death in 2000, Everhart remained in touch with his family and continued to paint in his patterns of dots.

Everhart is also consulting on a 3-D “Peanuts” movie that will be coming out soon. He lectures around the world about Schulz and exhibits his own related work.