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The Wild Art and Life of Kenny Scharf

Kenny Scharf: In Absence of Myth is a beautiful new book that traces the life and art of Kenny Scharf. Author G. James Daichendt could be considered the world's leading expert on this remarkable artist who is now based in Los Angeles, where he was originally born and raised. We wanted to learn more about both Kenny Scharf and the book, and caught up with the author for this Q&A...

What's your favorite taco spot?
Cafe Habana.

Why did you choose to write about Kenny Scharf?
I have followed the career of Kenny Scharf for some time and believe he holds an important place in contemporary art history. He sits at the borders of New Wave, Punk, Pop, Performance and Street Art - which makes for an interesting art historical conversation. However, it's his energy and eventful life that makes him an amazing subject for a book. Following his wild adventures is like riding a roller coaster.

Palladium, NYC, 1985
Palladium, NYC, 1985

If you had to describe Kenny using just emoji...
Since Kenny has his own emojis (see left) - this one works because of his joyous perspective on life and never ending energy.

How does place influence Kenny Sharf's work?
Since Kenny was born and raised in L.A. - the importance of hot rod culture, van art, album covers, punk music, along with all the futuristic architecture of southern California's imagined future played a huge role on his aesthetic. His transition to NYC and subsequent introduction to graffiti via Jean-Michel Basquiat altered his work to include the walls. Being a foundational member of Club 57 furthered the importance of place as this site became a legendary locations for Kenny's installations, performances, and art shows. In each case and in the years to come in upstate New York, Miami, FL, and back to Los Angeles- place has significantly impacted Kenny's work.

What influence has Kenny had on today's street artists?
Kenny bridged the conceptual line from writing letters (graffiti) to images (street art) along with close friend Keith Haring in the 1980s. This significant transition represented many outsider/insider and high/low brow conversations since Kenny and Keith were both art school students. These accomplishments also transitioned into commercial products and customizing boring everyday objects with Kenny's unique aesthetic. These ideas abound today by contemporary street artists - so its no wonder why he's considered one of the grandfathers of the movement.

What do you think Kenny Sharf's legacy will be when all is said and done?
Kenny will leave the world a much brighter and unique place to live. His artwork goes beyond something that adorns a wall but instead is part of his desire to spread joy and happiness. Kenny likes to have fun and wants his art work (whether it's on the side of a car or in a museum) to have the same impact on viewers. It's hard not to smile when you see it.

What do you consider to be Sharf's artistic high point? Career low?
Kenny's hardest days professionally were in the 1990s when he moved to Miami, FL. He felt that the art world forgot about him and the subsequent art movements like Neo-Geo left a lot of artists from the 1980s in its wake. Plus the AIDs crisis hit his community of friends devastatingly hard, which was emotionally troubling. However, the pluses during this time included raising his two daughters with his wife Tereza.

What was the hardest part about writing this book?
There are always unique challenges in writing a book. Kenny's work is collected around the world and by many powerful individuals. These voices can sometimes try to influence in unethical ways. This is why I am happy to be a professor and not economically associated with anyone.

Some early graffiti
Some early graffiti

What is something you learned about Scharf that surprised you?
I learned so much about Kenny that it's difficult to say one thing. I think in the end, I am impressed with his drive to succeed. He does not use assistants and insists that his hand is in everything he creates. It's part of what makes his art so special. Despite this though - he creates an incredible amount of work. An impressive feat for an artist whose work is desired around the globe.

What does the future hold for Kenny Scharf?
Every year seems to get better for Kenny Scharf. Major acquisitions by the Museum of Modern Art, NY and a big show at the The Whitney Museum of American Art - I suspect a major retrospective is around the corner.

You can buy Kenny Scharf, An Absence of Myth here. Learn more about author G. James Daichendt  here.


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