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Art Seen


A Conversation with Revolutionary Artist KENNY SCHARF

By Lori Zimmer

November 2011

It’s the last Saturday of October, and there is a disgusting snowstorm outside. Just as I was completing my rave flashback by getting my Dayglow outfit together, I got word that Kenny Scharf’s Cosmic Cavern party would be canceled for the evening. This would be my first of the epic parties that he throws with collaborator, Scot Ewalt, and it totally figures that Mother Nature decided to shit all over it.

Kenny may be from Los Angeles, but he belongs in New York. The days of the iconic 80s downtown scene are long over. Unlike many of the faces of that scene, Kenny  is still here, still present, and still producing his colorful utopian artworks. He has evolved from a kid who painted on the streets with roommate Keith Haring to an internationally renowned fine artist, with paintings in galleries and museums worldwide. His work still possesses the same candy colored cartoony qualities that it did in the 80s, but he has grown to be a modern surrealist master.

Patrick first started photographing Kenny during the days when he’d frequent Studio 54, Mudd Club, and the East Village scene. They both ran in circles with Haring, Warhol, and the like, and have since remained integral parts of New York’s art and nightlife scenes.

Today, the East Village scene has been invaded by young finance types, but Kenny keeps the creativity alive in Brooklyn. He holds the glow in the dark Cosmic Cavern parties right in the basement of his building, gluing neon plastic toys to the ceiling along with black light s,and with a guest list that is a mesh of creative fun loving people from all walks of New York life. His work continues to wow me. He killed it with his solo show at Paul Kasmin’s two spaces last January. Houston street mural delighted us for the entire summer, and although its gone, we can take solace in his new mural on 13th street in the Meatpacking District. My neon dress from high school–people called me “housewife on acid” when I’d wear it–awaits the rescheduled Cosmic Cavern.

Lori Zimmer: There has been a lot of nostalgia for 80s downtown New York lately–in art, nightlife, everything, and mostly from those of us who were in diapers while it was going on (myself included). Why do you think there is this sudden resurgence romanticizing that era?

Kenny Scharf: There is always nostalgia for a bygone era. In the 80s, we fantasized about the 50s and 60s.

LZ: You are one of the surviving icons of that 80s downtown art scene, with Warhol, Basquiat, and Haring having left us. Do you feel you’ve become a sort of ambassador of art from that era?

KS: I don’t really feel like an ambassador for the era as I much as I feel what I’m doing now is part of the now. But I do feel strongly about keeping the flame burning brightly of a certain energy and optimism that we all collectively shared.  I am proud of my past history with my amazing cohorts that I miss dearly, but I feel now is my time more than ever.

LZ: Patrick has been photographing you for years. Do you remember how and when you met?

KS: I can’t really remember when I first met Patrick, but I think it was around ’83, when I was starting to become known outside the East Village/Club 57 scene. He was everywhere and I was always happy to be in his pictures. We became friends around that time too; he makes me laugh!

LZ: When I think of your work, I think of my candy-colored happy place. It has always been optimistic–bright, cheery interpretations so that I can’t help but smile when I see them. Was there ever a dark era for Kenny Scharf?

KS: There is a lot of darkness with the light as I am always attracted to extremes. If happy was always happy without sad, then it wouldn’t feel happy. There are actually many black paintings and even a sad and lonely group of works that we can pull for you to see. Check out 2003 or 2004, you might find some. But I am an optimistic, fun loving person and I don’t mind being associated with that at all. There is so much pain and darkness in the world; I want to focus on keeping the light shining even if the darkness is lurking nearby.

LZ: You’ve been in this great city for over thirty years, and have seen it morph and change. What current things about New York inspire you?

KS: The city is always changing and my funky downtown is gone. But I live in Brooklyn now and I see the old NY. Funk is still around, and the artists around me in Bushwick are still dreaming big dreams.

LZ: You’ve recently had a solo show in 2 of Paul Kasmin’s spaces, customized appliances, thrown glow in the dark parties at The Hole and in your building, and have a monograph out with Rizzoli. What do you have cooking next?

KS: I’ve been doing a lot of murals lately and I am doing another smaller one on Monday with the Whitney across the street from the Standard on West 13th. I’m having a big show in April at Honor Fraser gallery in LA. I also just completed a painting for the new Miami Marlins Baseball Arena  which represents a step into the bigger public art realm and there are some other things on the burner that I am also excited about!

Kenny Scharf is a painter based in Brooklyn.


Kenny Scharf’s Official Site

Written by Lori Zimmer

Edited by Meaghan Coffey

Photography Courtesy of Kenny Scharf & Patrick McMullan & Co.

Design by Marie Havens


Page 1/Cover:

Kenny Scharf, Rosson Crow BOWERY BOYS Opening, Deitch, NYC, March 4, 2010, Photography by Carrie Shaltz for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 2/Collage:

(Left) Untitled #2 ( Go ), Mixed Media on Board, 14 x 8 inches, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

(Right) Untitled #3, Mixed Media on Board, 14 x 8.5 inches, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 3/Collage:

Untitled #10 (New Worlds For Pink), Mixed Media on Board, 14 x 8.75 inches, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 4:

Kenny Scharf, KENNY SCHARF New Paintings, PAUL KASMIN Gallery, Chelsea, NYC, October 18, 2007, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 5/Collage:

Untitled #16, Mixed Media on Board, 10 x 7.5 inches, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 6:

Patrick McMullan, Kenny Scharf, & Stefan Haves, SUPERPOP and CLOSET, Kenny Scharf Art Show and Dinner, Paul Kasmin Gallery, NYC, October 14, 2005, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 7/Painting:

“Ancient Surprise,” Acrylic on Linen, 30 x 40 Inches, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 8:

Art in the Streets, MOCA, Los Angeles, April – August 2011, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 9:

Jeffrey Deitch, Paige Powell, & Kenny Scharf, PAPER MAGAZINE Dinner In Honor of PEDRO ALMODOVAR & PENELOPE CRUZ & Their Film “BROKEN EMBRACES,” Casa Lever, NYC, October 10, 2009, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 10:

(Left) Lenny Kravitz & Kenny Scharf, Kenny Scharf party for his new Cartoon “Groovenians” on the Cartoon Network, Lucky Chengs, NYC, November 4, 2002, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

(Right) Kenny Scharf & Roxanne Lowitt, KENNY SCHARF New Paintings, PAUL KASMIN Gallery, Chelsea, NYC, October 18, 2007, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 11:

Kenny Scharf & Lady Bunny, TIA CIBANI and MARC BALET celebrate the publication of KENNY SCHARF, Ports 1961, NYC, April 21, 2009, Photography by Amber de Vos for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 12:

Art in the Streets, MOCA, Los Angeles, April – August 2011, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 13/Sculpture:

“Cateyeguy,” 2008, Enamel on Bronze, 23.5 x 9 13 inches, Edition 5, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 14:

Kenny Scharf, Andy Warhol, & Keith Haring at Elizabeth Saltzman’s Birthday party at Il Cantinori, June 16, 1986, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

Page 15:

The Donut “Grid” (Invite from Kenny’s show, Paul Kasmin Gallery), February 2o11, Courtesy & © Kenny Scharf

Page 16:

Janis Savitt, Keith Haring, Dianne Brill, & Kenny Scharf, November 1987, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com

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