Kenny Scharf: Still Popping

by Tim Young

Kenny Scharf, scion of ‘80s street-art-brought-indoors, contemporary of Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat and other purveyors of the Immediate Id, plastic passions and other lighthearted nightmares, continues to carry the Pop Art banner forward with “Kolors”, his current show at Paul Kasmin, Chelsea.


In this combination painting-sculpture exhibition, still present are Scharf’s iconic rubbery-limbed figures with bright cartoon eyes and carnivàle smiles. But Scharf’s new work focuses less on drawing and caricature and more on pattern and – especially – color.


The paintings in this show feature carefully rendered repetitions of hard-inked figure drawings that create patterns across the canvases, colorized with sharp but smartly limited palettes, creating a more painterly feel than we are accustomed to from Scharf’s grafitti-fueled canon. Engaging, though there is a hint of self stylizing here, of galvanizing his free-wheeling ‘80s in a 2013 settled-down, golden-memories wrap. With Scharf’s reputation and place in art history secure, there’s no need to shore up his delightfully kitschy adolescent visions with the patina of wisdom and restraint.


The real standouts in this show are three large cast-resin sculptures, each molded in deeply saturated circus colors that communicate emotion in a pure and lovely, childlike way…  A pair of playfully snarling lips in rich cherry red convey passionate danger (or dangerous passion). A deep purple (slowly rotating) two-sided bust expresses the twin emotions of happiness and worried surprise. And a three-headed totem pole of saturated over-the-top yellow and purple inform the seriousness of spirituality with a gentle reminder that life, after all, is fun.


Scharf continues to push his trippy street aesthetic forward, stabilizing the future of culture with real experience brought forward from a decade too easily marked down to the discount racks of Arena Rock, watery suburban Punk and parachute pants. With too many of his contemporaries gone, it’s great to have a steady voice and colorful heart beating through the decades, reminding us that all experience, no matter how ironic or kitschy, is real.


Through May 4th
Paul Kasmin Gallery
515 West 27th Street
New York City

Photos by Aude Bradley

  • Elba Valverde

    How fun!

  • Kevin Rack

    Stunning images and such lovely colours making the art really stand out!