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Rapper and Artist ABH Brings Cool Cartoon Art to L.A.

Artist revisits childhood memories in new exhibition of large-scale paintings.

Erica Riveraby Erica Rivera
Artwork: “The Grass Is Always Greener” by ABH in collaboration with Mike Reesé. Acrylic on fence, 72” x 96”, 2016.

If your childhood was like most, you probably have sentimental memories about Saturday morning cartoons. ABH, a rapper and visual artist based in Los Angeles, found the likes of Charlie Brown, Inspector Gadget, and Pinocchio to be the jumping-off point for a nostalgic collection of new paintings that incorporate cartoon art. The 38-year-old from Philadelphia uses acrylic paint to recreate those nostalgic animated characters from childhood along with graffiti in large-scale works painted on canvas, fences, doors, mirrors, and street signs. His new exhibition, A Kid At Heart, is on display now through May 4 at the De Re Gallery in L.A., with 20 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Perry J. Cohen Foundation, a non-profit organization founded to carry on the legacy of Perry Cohen, a 14-year-old boy who went missing at sea in 2015.

We asked ABH about the inspiration behind his eye-catching pop art aesthetic:

On working in the recording industry:

“In the early 2000s I was signed to Atlantic and worked with Pharrell Williams, The Neptunes. They did our whole first album. It was a group called Philly’s Most Wanted, me and my childhood friends. Got to go around the world, got to meet a lot of people, build a lot of friendships and relationships. It was a good time.”

Artwork: "A Kid At Heart" by ABH in collaboration with Leah Tenari. Acrylic on canvas, 45.5” x 45.5”, 2016.

Artwork: “A Kid At Heart” by ABH in collaboration with Leah Tenari. Acrylic on canvas, 45.5” x 45.5”, 2016.

On becoming a visual artist:

“I’ve been a visual artist my whole life. I kind of transitioned to being a rapper. I did art first. My dad is an artist. I was in the public school system but they noticed I had some talent when it came to drawing, so they put me in the charter school, the arts and humanities. It was a school that paid more attention to the arts.”

On cartoons:

“I was always into cartoons. I’m trying to dig deep and figure out the root of it all. I never wanted to not watch cartoons on Saturday. I remember that vividly as a child. In the pre-teen and teenage years, my friends got out of that kind of stuff faster than I did. I was still into it but I didn’t want to be the un-cool one, so I kind of fought it. But I was like, ‘How come you don’t want to watch cartoons on Saturday no more?’ They wanted to do other stuff. I didn’t understand that. I suppressed it. I had some kids, sort of got back into it. When I decided that I wanted to tell stories of my past with my art, I was like, ‘Man, I think the coolest thing to do would be to use cartoons from my past.’ It’s not literal. It’s just symbolism. It has deeper meaning. I was like, ‘I just want to tell a story and use cartoon characters that represent the time and era that these stories were happening to me.'”

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On color:

“I just love color. I believe color breathes energy and life into a room. I don’t want people to be sad and get into all these different moods when they view my art.”

On graffiti: 

“That’s just the street element to it. As far as my art goes, I never really got an opportunity to paint in the streets. The times that I would’ve been doing it, I had my rap career—18, 19, 20—those were the years I would have been doing something like that. I kind of feel like I missed my wave when it came to that. I always drew, I always painted. I just wanted to incorporate everything that I feel like I missed out on or left prematurely in my childhood, to reintroduce it in my art.”

Artwork: "When One Door Closes, Another Opens" by ABH. Wooden doors, acrylic paint, plexi, 63” x 83”, 2016.

Artwork: “When One Door Closes, Another Opens” by ABH. Wooden doors, acrylic paint, plexi, 63” x 83”, 2016.

On the L.A. art scene compared to Philly:

“It’s different, but to be honest with you, had I stayed in Philadelphia, I never would have taken my art as serious as I have being in L.A. Philly has a more concrete art scene. A lot of my influences come from the Philadelphia area, but L.A. is what sparked it for me. New York did, too. I lived in SoHo for almost two years. That got me back into the painting, but then I moved immediately to L.A. and started taking it way more serious.”

On music influencing his art:

“They run parallels completely. Everything from the titles down to the meanings. I take what I learned from music with building a record and I applied it to my art. The type of rapper I was, I did a lot of metaphors and triple and double entendres. I did a lot of that in my music so when I got to the art, I thought it was important to make sure my art was the same way. So you look at it, ‘Oh, that’s a painting of Bugs Bunny, that looks cool.’ But that’s not the extent of it. It’s not as simple as it looks. Once I explain my pieces, then people gather my other meanings, like ‘Oh, I get it now. I took it at a surface level.'”

On donating proceeds to benefit the Perry J. Cohen Foundation:

“When I first met them the mom, Pamela Cohen, and the stepdad, Nick Korniloff, I had a 15-year-old. I sympathize with them. To lose your only child…I thought it was really sad and unfortunate. It touched me. I’m a Pisces, so I’m into the water. I love the water. I use blue colors a lot, like sky blue or aqua. We both just thought it would be a good fit. He was a young man and she felt like if he would have been around, he would have liked my art.”