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Kenny Scharf

Kenny Scharf Biography

born Hollywood, CA (USA) 1958

Born in 1958 in Hollywood, California, Kenny Scharf spent much of his childhood watching television, "two inches from the screen," as he tells it. "I remember staring into it, and just watching the different, intense, brilliant colors change all the time." Not surprisingly, he credits shows such as The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and The Munsters as being more influential upon his brightly colored, phantasmagoric images than any art historical movement or style. This aside, it was unarguably Andy Warhol who determined Scharf's choice of career. Following a year of college in Santa Barbara (where he was introduced to Warhol's work in an art history class) he took off for New York to be near the Pop Art master. There he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts and befriended the likes of Keith Haring, John Sex, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, all of whom were soon to be hitting the headlines: in the art press and beyond.

During this time he created paintings that combined domestic environments with outlandish creatures and alien plants. Barbara Simpson's New Kitchen from 1978, for example, featured a suburban housewife poised at her kitchen sink with a strange hybrid beast - half dragon, half cat - standing equally poised in front of her. From such works Scharf's quirky sense of humor emerged, as did his characteristically exotic universe - one populated by wild, animated plants, strange blob-like forms with wide grins and clown noses, loopy abstract swirls, atmospheric planets, dinosaurs, and cartoon characters, amongst other assorted motifs. Though his work has transformed itself over the years, it has maintained its wit, brio, and "anything-can-happen" attitude.

On graduating in 1980, Scharf and Haring moved into a loft in Times Square, where they would be roommates for two years. During this time, Scharf's penchant for customizing his immediate surroundings - decorating TVs, phones, walls, and furniture with crazy, painted patterns, toy dinosaurs and plastic baubles - became more active. Transforming a local coffee shop (the Hippodrome) was his first "public project" - a temporary one as it turned out. Seeing dusty, fake green plants hanging in the otherwise bright yellow shop, Scharf approached the owner one afternoon with an idea to recolor the plants in blue and pink. To Scharf's surprise, the man agreed, though two weeks later the place was torn down.

Projects like this, as well as Scharf's ties to the East Village scene and its so-called "graffiti aesthetic" laid the groundwork for his career's explosion into the critical and public realm. Spraying mutated versions of TV icons such as Fred Flintstone all over Manhattan also raised his profile. Says Scharf: "The street recognition clicked with the paintings and people said, "Hey, I know this guy."" In 1985, Scharf, Basquiat, Haring and Francesco Clemente all created installations for New York's Palladium nightclub: a concerted intermingling of scenes that was characteristic of the decade.

The desire to transform everyday objects into contemporary art and to blur the lines between low and high culture exemplifies Scharf's relationship to Pop Art, and culminated in the opening of "Scharf Schaks" in Miami Beach and Manhattan's SoHo, where Scharf products - t-shirts, hats, and other items - were sold. The artist nevertheless differentiates his practice from Pop, describing it as "Pop-Surrealism". The iconography of popular culture has, he believes, become so deeply embedded within the social psyche that it is absorbed unwittingly and unconsciously, disallowing the kind of cool detachment and ironic reflection that characterized the work of his predecessors. Scharf's work is at heart socially engaged.

In the late 80s, he moved away from biomorphism to make critical paintings that used super-realist 50s advertising imagery on Abstract Expressionist backgrounds. Some of his subsequent works, such as his jungle-inspired paintings, have been pointedly ecological, while a number have dwelt on Aids. Many others, though, conjure possible worlds, as writer Richard D Marshall suggests: "Disguised as lurid, day-glo colored cartoon heads; Scharf's subjects present a surreal, yet achievable reality of a harmonious cohabitation of man, nature and the cosmos."

His art is therefore also distinguished by its essential hopefulness. "We're stuck with all these images, and all this media crap," notes Scharf. "Everybody's so wrapped up in it, but what's really important in our own world and life is completely different. So the highest priority is not the Pop imagery, it's something beyond, the cosmic inspiration." So we see that, in fact, it is the longing for a transformative experience - be it through humor or fantasy - that is the true heart of Scharf's work.

Select Timeline

Select Exhibitions

  • 1981 - National Studio Artists, P.S. 1, Long Island City, NY
  • 1981 - The Jetsons, Fun Gallery New York, NY
  • 1981 - Customized Appliances, Club 57 New York, NY
  • 1981 - Club 57 New York, NY
  • 1981 - The Times Square Show, Times Square New York, NY
  • 1981 - New York, New Wave, P.S. 1 Long Island City, NY
  • 1981 - Drawing Show, Mudd Club New York, NY
  • 1981 - Beyond Words, Mudd Club New York, NY
  • 1982 - Space Invaders, P.S. 1 Long Island City, NY
  • 1982 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1982 - Fun Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1983 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1983 - American Graffiti Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 1983 - Champions, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1983 - Champions, Fay Gold Gallery New York, NY
  • 1983 - Surrealist Show, Robert Miller Gallery New York, NY
  • 1983 - Morton G. Neuman Family Collection, Kalamazoo Institute of Art Kalamazoo, MI
  • 1983 - Intoxication, Monique Knowlton Gallery New York, NY
  • 1983 - Paintings, Sculpture, Totems and 3D, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1983 - The Comic Art Show, Whitney Museum (Downtown Branch) New York, NY
  • 1983 - Back to the U.S.A., Kunstmuseum Luzern Luzern, Switzerland
  • 1983 - Tendencias en Nueva York, Palacio de Cristal Madrid, Spain
  • 1983 - Paintings into Sculpture, Bonlow Gallery New York, NY
  • 1983 - Bienalle de Sao Paulo, Bienalle de Sao Paulo Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • 1983 - Salvatore Ala Gallery Milan, Italy
  • 1983 - References, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Charleroi Charleroi, Belgium
  • 1984 - Via New York, Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art Montreal, Canada
  • 1984 - The Innovative Landscape, Holly Solomon Gallery New York, NY
  • 1984 - New Hand Painted Dreams: Contemporary Surrealism, Barbara Gladstone Gallery New York, NY
  • 1984 - Arte di Frontiera, Galeria d'Arte Moderna Bologna, Italy
  • 1984 - Aperto, Venice Biennale Venice, Italy
  • 1984 - The Human Condition, Museum of Modern Art San Francisco, CA
  • 1984 - Contemporary Perspectives 1984, Bucknell University
  • 1984 - New Idioms, Robert Fraser Gallery London, England
  • 1984 - New Attitudes: Paris/ New York, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Pittsburgh, PA
  • 1984 - Group Show, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1984 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1984 - Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1985 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1985 - Biennale 1985, The Whitney Museum New York, NY
  • 1985 - Drawings, Leo Castelli Graphics New York, NY
  • 1985 - Eight Artists/ Eight Years/ SVA, School of Visual Arts Gallery New York, NY
  • 1985 - East Village Artists, Holly Solomon Gallery New York, NY
  • 1985 - Investigations, Institute of Contemporary Art University of Pennsylvania
  • 1985 - Sights for Small Eyes, Heckscher Museum Long Island, NY
  • 1985 - Photography and Sculpture, Patrick Fox Gallery New York, NY
  • 1985 - Michael Kohn Gallery Los Angeles, CA
  • 1985 - Vernacular Abstraction, Wacoal Art Center Tokyo, Japan
  • 1985 - Art in Action, Sogetsu Museum Tokyo, Japan
  • 1985 - Out of the Ooo Cloud, Edith C. Blum Art Institute Bard College
  • 1985 - Works on Paper, Galerie Barbara Farber Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 1986 - An American Renaissance: Painting and Sculpture from 1940 to the Present, Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale, FL
  • 1986 - Homage to Nicholas A. Moufarrage, Gabrielle Bryers Gallery New York, NY
  • 1986 - Pictures from the Inner Mind, The Palladium New York, NY
  • 1986 - Carl Solway Gallery Cincinnati, OH
  • 1986 - Thomas Cohn Gallery Brazil
  • 1986 - Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1986 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1986 - Akira Ikeda Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1987 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1987 - Comic Iconoclasm, ICA London, England
  • 1988 - Figure as Subject: Revival of Figuration since 1975, Selections from , Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY
  • 1988 - The Weisman Collection, Travelling Exhib, California State University at Fullerton Fullerton, CA
  • 1988 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1988 - Akira Ikeda Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1989 - Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1989 - Don't Bungle the Jungle, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1989 - The Studio American Collection, Witkacy Theatre; BWA Art Exhibition Bureau Zakopane; Suwalki, Poland
  • 1990 - The Last Decade: American Artists of the 80's, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1990 - Galerie Beaubourg, Paris, France
  • 1990 - Galerie Hans Mayer, Galerie Hans Mayer Dusseldorf, Germany
  • 1990 - Akira Ikeda Gallery, Akira Ikeda Gallery Tokyo, Japan
  • 1991 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1991 - Studio Trisorio Naples, Italy
  • 1991 - AC&T Corporation Tokyo, Japan
  • 1991 - American Art of the 80's, curated by Gabri, Palazzo delle Albere Trento, Italy
  • 1991 - Metropolitan Home Showhouse 2, Metropolitan Home Showhouse 2 New York, NY
  • 1991 - To Benefit Fashion Moda, Brooke Alexander Gallery New York, NY
  • 1991 - Children in Crisis, A Benefit Exhibition, Lorence Monk Gallery New York, NY
  • 1991 - The 1980's: A Selected View from the Permanent Collection, The Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY
  • 1991 - Just What Is It That Makes Today's Home So Different, So Appealing?, The Hyde Collection Glens Falls, NY
  • 1991 - Closet No. 9, Queens Museum of Art Flushing, Queens
  • 1991 - A Passion for Art: Watercolors and Works on Paper, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1992 - 1492, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey Monterrey, Mexico
  • 1992 - Variations Gitanes, a La Grande-Villette Paris, France
  • 1992 - Objects Trouvees, Galerie du Jour, Agnes B Paris, France
  • 1992 - Balade de l'Amour, Halle de l'Union des Arts Decoratifs Palais de Louvre, Paris, France
  • 1992 - Edward Totah Gallery, London, England
  • 1992 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1992 - Hokin Gallery, Bay Harbor Islands, FL
  • 1992 - Galleria Rocca 6, Torino, Italy
  • 1992 - Galleria Seno, Milan, Italy
  • 1993 - About Nature, Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art Cleveland, OH
  • 1993 - Art and Environment, Organized and cu, The National Arts Club New York, NY
  • 1993 - Extravagant: The Economy of Elegance, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1993 - Extravagant: The Economy of Elegance, Russisches Kulturzentrum Berlin, Germany
  • 1993 - 1982-1983: Ten Years After, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1993 - Mating Instinct, Penine Hart Gallery New York, NY
  • 1993 - Reanimator, WLRN Miami, FL
  • 1993 - Small Paintings and Works on Paper, Galerie Eikelmann Essen, Germany
  • 1993 - Closet #10, World Gallery Miami Beach, FL
  • 1993 - Jaffe, Baker, Blau Gallery Boca Raton, FL
  • 1993 - Closet #11, Click Gallery Essen, Germany
  • 1994 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1994 - New York Unplugged, Gallery Cotthem-Hedwig Van Impe Knokke, Belgium
  • 1995 - Yoshii Gallery, Yoshii Gallery New York, NY
  • 1995 - Gallery Cotthem, Gallery Cotthem Belgium
  • 1995 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Tony Shafrazi Gallery New York, NY
  • 1995 - Scharf-O-Rama Vision: 1978-1995, Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • 1996 - Heads, Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, FL
  • 1996 - MARCO, MARCO Monterrey, Mexico
  • 1997 - Grins: Humor and Whimsy in Contemporary Art, Millard Sheets Gallery, Pomona, CA
  • 1997 - Art and Provocation: Images From Rebels, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, CO
  • 1997 - In Your Face: Haring, Basquiat, Scharf, Leo Malca Fine Art, New York, NY
  • 1998 - Vivid Vision, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
  • 1998 - Closet #16, Nexus Contemporary Art Center, Atlanta, GA
  • 1998 - Fashion at the Beach, Bass Museum, Miami
  • 1998 - Pop Surrealism, The Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT
  • 1998 - 80 Artistes Autour du Mondial, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris
  • 1998 - New Acquisitions: Dream Collection...part three, Miami Art Museum
  • 1998 - Galeria Ramis Barquet, Monterrey, Mexico
  • 1998 - McIntosh Gallery, Atlanta, GA
  • 1998 - Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 1998 - Kenny Scharf (new paintings), Cotthem Gallery, Barcelona, Spain
  • 1998 - Galeria Ramis Barquet, Monterrey, Mexico
  • 1999 - On the Air, San Francisco Interntional Airport North Terminal Gallery, San Francisco, CA
  • 1999 - Kenny Scharf: New Sculpture PICA, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Portland, Oregon
  • 1999 - Mannequins & Rugs, PUCCI International, New York, NY
  • 1999 - Portrait Collection of Mr. Chow Galerie Enrico Navarra Paris, France
  • 1999 - Acquisitions: Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL
  • 1999 - The American Century: Art & Culture, 1950-2000, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
  • 1999 - The Road Show, DFN Gallery, NYC
  • 1999 - Galerie Hans Mayer, Dusseldorf, Germany
  • 1999 - A room with a view, Sixth@Prince Fine Art, New York
  • 2000 - Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
  • 2000 - Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
  • 2000 - Lowbrow Art: Up From The Underground The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood , Hollywood, FL
  • 2000 - Kenny Scharf's Permanent Closet #18:Young at Art Children's Museum, Davie, Florida
  • 2000 - Universal Offspring: PUCCI International Ltd., New York, NY
  • 2001 - Portraits, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
  • 2001 - Hollywood Stars, LACE, Los Angeles
  • 2001 - Animation, P.S. 1, Long Island City, NY
  • 2002 - Muted, Chac Mool Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2003 - Night Light, Patrick Painter, Inc, Santa Monica, CA
  • 2004 - California Grown, Pasadena Museum of Contemporary Art, Pasadena, CA
  • 2004 - SchaBlobz, Kenny Schachter ConTEMPorary, New York, NY

Select Artwork

  • Flower Vase, 2006
  • Appears, 1992
  • Dark Day, 1988
  • Horsey, 1986
  • Dogeyeguy
  • Yumzogs, 2004

Quotes

Publications

  • Kenny Scharf - by Ann Magnuson, Barry Blinderman, Bill McBride, Greg Bowen, Robert Farris Thompson, Illinois State University (March 1999)

Quick Facts

  • Kenny Scharf was born in 1958, in Hollywood, California.
  • The artist received his B.F.A in 1980 at the School of Visual Arts located in New York City. Scharf's works consist of popular culture based shows with made up science related backgrounds.
  • The reason Scharf uses cartoon images in his art work is to bring popular culture in the fine arts. Scharf wants to see how far he can push the line between high and low art.
  • Kenny did the album covers of The B-52s in the mid-80s.

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