Kenny Scharf, born in 1958 in Hollywood, is a name that no contemporary art enthusiast can overlook. Close to Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, he’s a pioneer of the Street Art movement with New York at its core.
Kenny Scharf: New York Street Art Pioneer
Currently showcased at the Almine Rech gallery on rue de Turenne in Paris, until November 10 2023, Kenny Scharf is an art icon. When you think of the 1980s’ East Village art movement, names like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring immediately come to mind alongside Kenny Scharf’s.
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a friend, Keith Haring his roommate. “I was 19, Basquiat was 17, and he told me: you’re going to be famous” — he wasn’t wrong. With his vibrant palette, cartoon motifs, and futuristic approach, Kenny Scharf has been leaving an indelible mark in the art world since the 1980s.
His style? A pop aesthetic pulled from the 1950s-60s cartoons combined with daring futurism. Unlike other artists of his generation, Kenny Scharf stood out with colorful, sometimes psychedelic motifs, and familiar yet distorted characters, creating a surreal, iconic universe.
Kenny Scharf: The Artist
Born in 1958 in Hollywood, California, Kenny Scharf moved to New York to study at the esteemed School of Visual Arts. A buzzing artistic period of East Village, placing Kenny Scharf at the heart of a burgeoning artistic movement — street art!
“Part of what I do and want to do is introduce art into everyday life. If you can take ordinary things walking on the street and you’re confronted with something, it might change your day – it might inspire you. I’m always doing new things.”
Kenny Scharf is known for his quirky characters, like Blobz and DonutZ. His signature? Juxtaposing nostalgic patterns with futuristic visions, probing our relation with the past and future anticipation. Though painting is his primary mode, Scharf never hesitated to experiment.
If one had to mention a standout work, it would be Cosmic Cavern, one of his most iconic installations. Four decades ago, Kenny Scharf unveiled this work as a mix of disparate objects, coated in fluorescent paints, gathered from New York’s East Village.
The colorful, cartoon-inspired universe of American artist Kenny Scharf has also paved its way into luxury houses!
Recently, it’s his collaboration with Dior Homme by Kim Jones for Fall/Winter 2021 that turned heads.
Kenny Scharf’s hallmark aesthetics, with its zany, colorful characters, found themselves on Dior items, accessories, and bags! And it wasn’t his first fashion venture.
In 2014, Kenny Scharf teamed up with designer Jeremy Scott for a collection reflecting the fusion of Kenny Scharf’s street art style with Jeremy Scott’s bold approach.
In 2012, the collaboration between Kenny Scharf and luxury Italian house Fendi resulted in a series of cartoonish, psychedelic accessories! Among them, the iconic Baguette bag painted by the artist.
Indeed, Kenny Scharf, the pioneer, has long been endorsed by museum institutions. His artworks are part of collections in renowned museums such as MoMa, Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum, and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.
But these collaborations also reflect Kenny Scharf’s ambition: “A very important and guiding principle of my work is to break the elitist boundaries of fine art and connect with popular culture through my art…”
What makes Kenny Scharf particularly iconic is his ability to span decades while remaining relevant. His art speaks of consumer culture, nostalgia, and raises questions about our societal direction.
Indeed, Kenny Scharf toys with popular culture icons and symbols to craft artworks that question our relationship with history, technology, and modern society.