Born 1958 in Los Angeles, Kenny Scharf is an American painter, sculptor and street artist known for creating unique works that take their influence from various forms of pop culture such as cartoon characters. His work has gained much popularity since the 1980’s and continues to be recognized for its unique style, which is based largely upon the free figuration movement. Scharf approaches his work with a certain level of well-intended light heartedness, believing that art should be for everyone, he enjoys exploring ideas that are accessible to both mainstream and art loving audiences.
Education and Career
In 1980, after graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Scharf soon became active in the local art scene. Some of his first works to gain popularity were done in collaboration with artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Scharf has explained that, back when he was building his career, he and his artist friends had a largely differing view on what they were trying to create through their art than most of the major artists at the time. While his work was focused on trying to balance something the public could enjoy with an art style that would also be enjoyable for art lovers, Scharf noted that the current art movement in New York at the time seemed to be rather esoteric.
Even though New York is viewed as the art Mecca of America, Scharf had also commented about the influence of his California upbringing on his artwork. To a large extent, the artist wants to establish Los Angeles as a key influencer in American art by creating a local art movement focused on establishing Los Angeles as a new and unique contributor with a fresh flavor that doesn’t directly compete with New York. He shared one of the ideas he had concerning this during a 2013 interview for his Kolors exhibition at the Paul Kasmin Gallery, stating that he wants to build a drive-through art museum, which Scharf hopes to create in order to echo the feel of his home city.
Accomplishments and Exhibitions
One of Scharf’s most well known artworks is his mural in Bowery. The large work of art, which can only be described as psychedelic and playful, boasts bright colors of cartoon-like characters. But in his more than thirty years as a popular artist, Scharf has painted and sculpted various notable works that have been featured in some of the world’s most notorious galleries.
Works by the artist have featured in places such as the Paul Kasmin Gallery, Honor Fraser Gallery, the Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art, to name a few. But with Scharf’s playful and enjoyable art style, it’s fitting that he had an exhibition at the Fun Gallery, New York in 1982, which helped the artist gain a lot of exposure during the early stage of his career.
Scharf’s Art Work
Some of Scharf’s first works were inspired by Hanna-Barbera, often featuring cartoon characters that were popular during the artist’s childhood. But many of his later works have developed, and many of his paintings and prints now feature blob cartoon characters that the artist came up with by himself. These illustrations are very captivating, with a strong feel of childlike play and fun often being at the center of their message.
Scharf refers to his unique genre and style of painting as Pop Surrealism, explaining that Surrealism comes from the unconscious mind and that his own unconscious mind is, in fact, filled with pop imagery. Most of the artist’s paintings are done using oil on canvas and he insists on doing all of the work himself. He believes that by creating his art without the assistance of an artistic team, a certain energy unique to himself is transferred into the work when it’s created. He also believes that the creation of art is much like a performance, and because his work is based strongly on Surrealism, his marvellous paintings, often even large murals, are all done using his free hand without any thought or planning beforehand.
Kenny Scharf’s unique approach to modern art undeniably makes him a strong influencer. His Bowery mural – which strongly resembles graffiti, but with a very unconventional twist – certainly showcases the way in which the artist has developed a new take on the practice of creating street art. Apart from his work as a sculptor, painter and muralist, Scharf has also ventured into various other ways to express his artistic voice, such as trying to bring art into everyday items. This is what led to the creation of his Cosmic Cavern, and has also led to the artist experimenting with everyday objects such as cars in order to create works of art.
According to Scharf, art should be experienced in everyday things to make life more interesting, inspire people with ideas and ignite the imagination in a psychedelic way. He believes that the beauty and fun within artwork should evoke a sense of excitement in any viewer that passes by, and that showing art to a public audience allows him to communicate his ideas, not only to audiences that already have an active interest in art, but also to those who would never visit museums to see artwork otherwise.