Living Proof Magazine Issue #7: Kenny Scharf Feature And Video

You grew up in California. What was that like for you and how do you think it influenced your work?

It was typical suburban. I grew up in the Valley, which is a suburb of L.A, and L.A. itself is really a suburb. So, the Valley is a suburb of a suburb. It was your typical California cul-de-sac—cars, fast food. It definitely affected everything I do and my aesthetic. Early on, in the time of my childhood, the 50’s and 60’s space age and architecture and things like that, influenced me. You’re really very impressionable when you’re young. My first imagery was crazy late-fifties cars with tail fins and all that kind of futuristic, optimistic architecture that embodies southern California and that era. I was very affected by all that.

What drew you to New York, and when did you leave California to head there?

I was in college at UC Santa Barbara, and I took an art history class. Our teacher was visiting from New York, and it was a 20th Century art class. My access to art at the time was at head shops. They had Dali artwork there, and I got into all that. I was excited about Jackson Pollock, also. It’s very cosmic. That, obviously, turned me on. I started getting into Pop Art and Andy Warhol and The Factory. Then, I started looking around at all the people in the room, the Southern California vibe, and said, “I’m going to New York.” I knew that the sixties were over, but I wanted to be near that environment.

How did you get into that world?

My parents were freaked out because my dad was from Brooklyn, and they spent so long trying to get out of New York. They said I had to apply at art schools in California, too. I applied to about ten art schools all over, and the only one that would accept me was SVA. Thank god they did. [laughs] They accepted anyone back then; it was looser. I got there, and the kids there looked like all the kids I just left behind except they were suburban kids from Long Island. That wasn’t the New York I thought I was coming to. [laughs] I was just getting into new wave and punk, and while I was at school, I heard some of this music. I followed it to find my soon-to-be friend Keith Haring, barefoot and shirtless, painting black lines in this white room to the beat of Devo. He was painting himself into a corner. That was how I envisioned New York, and those were the kinds of people I wanted to meet. We quickly became friends, and then I met John Sex, who was also an amazing visual artist. When he became a performance artist, he threw all of his art in a dumpster. I got some of it. I met Basquiat at the same time; he was hanging out in the Cafeteria. I quickly met this group of young artists, and we were wandering around the East Village and wandered into Club 57, before it was what it was. Then I met Joey Arias while he was working at Fiorucci, where I was a part of my first show, which was called “Fiorucci Celebrates The New Wave.” Everything happened all at once, and we created our own scene. We all wanted to meet Warhol, and kept expecting him to just walk into 57, but he never did. We did all get to meet him eventually. >>>>

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