Gaining prominence in New York in the 1980s, Kenny Scharf is one of the most recognizable artists from that important period of postwar art still working today. His iconic style combines curious figures and idiosyncratic characters with a deep appreciation for his creative roots in the East Village where he befriended and worked with artists like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Scharf came of age in the Pop Art age of 1960s Los Angeles, imbued with television and the futuristic promise of modern design. Scharf moved from Los Angeles to New York in 1980, in turn bridging the era’s Pop Art aesthetic with the punk rock, new wave, graffiti subcultures emerging in New York at the time. With a fascination in the trash found around the city—harkening such objects as the remnants of 1950s pillars of the “American Dream—it was in this period of the early 1980s when Scharf began painting on found objects ranging from wood pallets to vacuum cleaners to dryers to radios.
Painted in 1983, the present work, Untitled, somewhat ironically transforms pop culture, cartoon icons onto the found materials off of the streets of New York City. The blue cartoon character that playfully weaves through graffiti-like forms serves as a precursor for the further exploration of cartoon imagery within Scharf’s career. Untitled, 1983 is a lively example of Scharf’s signature style and merges his unique iconography on a found wooden pallet. Created a few years before Scharf’s inclusion in the 1985 Whitney Biennial, the present work shows the artist’s talent for bridging the gap between tagged train cars and gallery walls. Scharf’s ability to intertwine his own stylistic leanings with the uptrend of graffiti and street art in the 1980s cemented his legacy as a pillar of the scene and an inspiration for generations to come.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, Untitled was shown in the back room of Scharf’s New York show at Tony Shafrazi gallery in 1983. It was most recently exhibited at We Were Here: East Coast x West Coast, a group exhibition of graffiti and street art from New York and California at Chase Contemporary in Los Angeles.
Scharf’s refusal to accept perceived normalcy or to lock in step with the status quo has made his work timeless. It consistently refuses to adhere to the common visual dialogue and instead looks back to the fictional futures of his youth. Cartoons and space ships collide with the reality of urban living in a manner that may seem completely light-hearted at first but really highlights the national mental shift from glittering space-age dreams to humdrum workaday suburbia.
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The work is structurally sound. An artist drilled hole for hanging purposes is near the upper right. Wear is to the outer edges of the wood with splintering at the upper left corner, in keeping with the nature of the found material. Minor losses, scratches and nicks are scattered, likely in keeping with the nature of the medium. Accretions and handling marks are scattered, some in keeping with the artist's working method. There is no apparent inpainting visible under ultraviolet light.
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