With the ongoing re-examination of late 20th century art, Kenny Scharf ’s role is also being reevaluated. Starting in his early twenties during the late 1970s, Scharf has utilized a wide array of contemporary elements and references from consumer culture, television animation, street art, hip-hop, and punk in his paintings, sculptures, installations, fashion, and performance art. As a leader in the East Village art movement in New York, Scharf strived to showcase his groundbreaking work at Club 57 and otherdowntown venues, where his friends, including Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, experimented with their collaborative works across diverse art forms.
Scharf began customizing work by turning mass-produced ready-mades into unique works of art to suit the customer’s individual needs and tastes. It has evolved into his ‘closet’ projects as seen in the Cosmic Cavern series, which played a role as a new influential form of installation art. Scharf’s painting career likewise began primarily featuring works that utilize television cartoons, notably The Flintstones and TheJetsons, and his own fusion of the two, The Jetstones. As the inventor of “Super Pop,” he continued on unique projects, combining ludicrous facial images with symbols of pop culture and diverse biomorphic forms, and also his Jungle series featuring anthropomorphic trees that warn viewers of the destruction of the environment and the ecosystem committed by commercialism. Scharf’s works abound in paradox, as the artist employs a pleasurable imagery and a humorous mode of expression to address such grave issues of mankind as environmental degradation, drug addiction, the AIDS epidemic, the fear of world war and nuclear holocaust, and the apocalypse. Scharf’s art presents a dystopia masquerading as a fun and lively place full of garish neon colors and envisions a transformation/migration from dystopia to a space-age utopia.