New York in the 1980s may be the last time the vanguard art community converged in one place. Ambitious artists, musicians, writers and others who dreamed of connecting with a community that shared their interest in progressive culture could emerge from the subway at Broadway and Prince Street and immediately join the conversation. Almost all of the galleries, performance spaces and studios were within walking distance. You could meet nearly every artist, curator and art writer, from Andy Warhol to students just off the Greyhound Bus, right on the street corner.
It was on one of those street corners in SoHo that I first met Kenny Scharf, recently arrived from Los Angeles to enroll at the School of Visual Arts. I don’t think it took Kenny more than a few days to connect with his fellow SVA student Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who, although not a registered student, would hang out at the school for the free art materials and studio space. Within a year of his arrival in New York, Kenny was at the center of one of the most dynamic group of young artists, musicians and performers in the world.
From the start, Kenny had a distinctive aesthetic and a unique touch. He created a dynamic mixture of optimistic and innocent Los Angeles pop culture with a tough New York attitude. In Kenny Scharf’s new artistic world, his favorite TV family, The Jetsons, would ride the subway on their way to outer space. The smiling faces of Jetsons and Flintstones were combined with sinister graffiti tags to create a new artistic language that is still at the foundation of Scharf’s work.
After extended sojourns in Brazil and Miami, and the re-establishment of a studio in New York, Kenny is now back in his native Los Angeles. Along the way, his engagement with Brazilian Tropicalia and Miami’s Cuban culture has given another dimension to his work. His Los Angeles indoor/outdoor studio, with his customized Cadillacs parked in the yard, is the ideal venue to build on his unique cross-cultural aesthetic.