Q&A With Kenny Scharf!

Kenny Scharf opened his exhibition ‘Kolors’ last night at Paul Kasmin Gallery. It was a colorful affair complete with a particularly delicious collaboration between Scharf and The Doughnut Plant. Known for his colorful paintings, murals, and close friendships with artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat during the East Village art scene of the 1980s, Scharf was one of the first artists to inject street culture into mainstream contemporary art. He continues to incorporate imagery from cartoons and pop culture into his exuberant painting and sculptures. Scharf took some time out of his day to answer a few questions about his work and new exhibition.

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Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get your start making art?

My earliest memory was finger painting in nursery school. I can remember vividly the excitement I felt and the visuals like it was yesterday.

You’re from LA – do you think being from there influences your work?

Growing up in LA definitely influenced my art. I was constantly being bombarded with imagery that spoke of the space age in cars, architecture, and media. The colors and imagery are still fresh in my mind.

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Then you came to New York and became friends with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. What drew you to each other?

Fate – they were some of my first friends I made immediately upon arrival.

With Keith you made blacklight installations called ‘cosmic closets,’ which eventually caught the interest of the Whitney, who then asked you to recreate it for their Biennial. How did that come about and what was that like?

Keith and I lived in a decrepit townhouse near Bryant Park – I converted an old large closet into an installation after I came upon a blacklight and began to put items from the street garbage into the room and painted them florescent. It began to grow and became the “closet,” and then the “cosmic cavern.” It became the site of a lot of fun parties!

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A lot of your work prominently features cartoons characters and pop iconography. What about that interests you?

That I own these icons because they are personal to me, yet they are also shared by millions!

You have a series of doughnut paintings. What about doughnuts interests you?

They look good, taste good, yet are bad for you. They have a hole in the middle and resemble the universe. Some scientists think the universe is shaped like a doughnut. They are the ultimate good-to-look-at, bad-for-you consumer object. They’re fun to paint.

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Through your work you have developed a fully formed world with characters. You’ve translated this into animation in the past – will you be making more in the future?

I would very much love to make more animation.

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You’ve made a few sculptures: one for your show at Honor Fraser and your sculpture at the Standard Hotel. What is it like seeing your characters move from the 2D realm to 3D?

Ive actually made many sculptures over the past 30 years, but these new ones are different and I think more successful in their bright, colorful, shiny boldness. It is natural for me considering all the paintings incorporate imagery that has a “3D” look.

You often refer to yourself as a customizer and have transformed objects ranging from household appliances to Cadillacs. What about that interests you?

Taking everyday usable objects and turning them into art is a great way of incorporating the everyday task and transforming it into a magical art experience, thereby uplifting the banal into beauty and experience.

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Tell me about your collaboration with Kiehl’s – what was it like to make over a product as iconic as the Crème de Corps? How was that process?

It was great to work with Kiehl’s as they have such a good graphics team – they made it super easy for me!

What are some of your new inspirations and what are you looking forward to?

I am very exited about the present and future. Besides my show opening next week, I am about to make another mural in NYC on Hudson and 14th Street, I’m showing in a “futures” exhibit in the museum in Mobile Alabama in May as well as painting a mural there, and I am also customizing a 70s Pontiac in a new and very exiting way as well as some other fun stuff that I can’t mention yet!

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