In the late 1970s, Kenny Scharf (b. 1958, Los Angeles, California, U.S.) was studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he gained exposure to subway graffiti and the Downtown art scene. He began to work in spray paint, combining it with the traditional media he used in art school. Scharf graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1980 and a year later he was given a solo show at Fun Gallery in New York. He became one of the principal figures in the East Village scene, painting both in the streets and for galleries such as Tony Shafrazi, which showed Scharf’s work in 1984. The following year, the Whitney Museum of American Art included Scharf in its biennial. Scharf’s cartoonish renditions of Jetsons and Flintstones characters, distorted into lava lamp-like shapes and floating on wild, outer space backgrounds, are often painted on huge, wall-sized canvases. His aesthetic has lent itself to popular applications as well, including nightclub and restaurant décor, clothing, toys, and album covers for pop groups such as the B-52s. Scharf recently returned to the streets of New York, painting a series of store grates with his signature characters and a large mural at the corner of Houston Street and the Bowery—a wall he first painted in collaboration with other Fun Gallery artists in the early 1980s. Scharf continues to be engaged with public art projects such as his KARBOMBZ, in which Scharf paints cars around the world for free with his distinctive imagery. A documentary film about his life and work, Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide, directed by his daughter Malia Scharf and Max Basch, was released in 2020.
Wynwood Walls, Miami, Florida 2009. Photo © Martha Cooper.