An intimate portrait of American artist Kenny Scharf, whose unique brand of "pop-surrealism" made him a 1980s art star.
The Fun's Inside will explore the life and work of American artist Kenny Scharf whose “surrealistic pop” paintings shook up the New York art world of the early 1980s and turned him into an art star.
Scharf exploded onto the scene in 1978 after moving from his native Los Angeles to New York to attend the School Of Visual Arts (SVA). The Lower East Side was a hotbed of creativity and Scharf quickly found his place within the art and club culture of the moment. He befriended a group of wildly creative, like-minded artists that included Keith Haring, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente and Jean-Michel Basquiat who would ultimately change the face of American art.
This feature film will take viewers on a journey through Scharf’s meteoric rise to art world superstardom; his relationship with mentor Andy Warhol; the appearance of AIDS, which would take the lives of so many of his closest friends; meeting his wife Tereza while on holiday in Brazil; his life as a father of two girls while juggling a career as an artist; his struggle to remain relevant in the 1990s during which time he felt as though he was being "punished for being alive", while the price of works by fallen comrades Haring, Basquiat and Warhol reached astronomic heights; and his subsequent triumphant return. Scharf is considered by many to be one of the most influential artists of the last thirty years.
Now at 52, Scharf is as prolific as ever. He turns out an astonishing amount of work from his Los Angeles and Brooklyn studios, which is shown in galleries and museums throughout the world. Scharf has become a source of inspiration to a new generation of young artists and has collaborated with many of the art world's brightest new stars. In April, 2011, he will take part in the show Art in the Streets, a survey of the history of street art at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. Inside the museum will be a recreation of the FUN Gallery where Scharf had his first show in New York, bringing his career full circle.
Scharf's work is part of the permanent collections of a dozen museums worldwide including the Ludwig in Cologne, the Sogetsu in Tokyo and the Whitney in New York. Though he is a serious artist, Scharf remains a kid at heart for whom fun is a religion.
“I’m painting and I want people to have fun looking at the paintings. When I think, ‘what should I do next?’, I think: more, newer, better, nower, funner.”
- Kenny Scharf, 1985
The Fun's Inside (1983)
Kenny Scharf is a true original and although his art has been celebrated for over 30 years, little is known about the man outside of his public persona. As his daughter there is a certain intimacy that I am able to share with him. This documentary film will explore Kenny's history and the context of where he began his career, who his peers were and how he became established in the art world. We will explore this time period in the early '80s with archival footage and home movies of Scharf and his family and friends. These films and videos will also include other prominent figures and collaborators, such as Keith Haring, Klaus Nomi and Ann Magnuson. The key to the film and to Kenny's way of living, is his positive attitude towards life and his art. The style of the film will capture his unique vision.
The film will be a portrait of Kenny in all of the stages of his life, entering the art world, becoming a father, supporting a family, the financial ups and downs and the struggle of being an artist in the world. We have footage of Kenny in his element making paintings that will be shown in galleries and museums, and his many public art projects. Through the film you will get to know him as a human being simply surviving and doing only what he knows. The struggle of supporting a family, divorce, the loss of friends is all present and will be a part of the portrait of his life as well. Although his work looks fun and bright on the surface, there is much more that people may not see at first glance. The film will explore all facets of his art and personality.
The purpose of the film is to inspire and attempt to bring art closer to everyone’s life, which is one of his main objectives. A story of a man who never gave up and still hasn’t, and the beautiful struggle of living in the world as an artist. The struggle of life is something everyone can relate to. He is able to bring out the color, vibrancy, and attitude that I believe we all need to have. It is moving to see Kenny paint a huge public mural, like that on Bowery and Houston in New York. To witness his art's ability to affect people's moods and emotions, or simply evoke a smile.
This would be the first feature film on Kenny and it is a way for me to get to know my dad and his work even more. I want to share the unique point of view I have as knowing him as human being and father. I am honored to be making a film about the most inspirational person that I know.
Kenny is more active than ever, or should I say as active as always. We are documenting things that are happening now. At this point in his career he is able to reach more people than he has ever reached before. The film will exhibit the incredible passion and discipline he makes his art with. It is about a person surviving in every way through art. There are few artists who were born knowing nothing but to create and Kenny is a rare example. This is something I want to share with those of my generation.
- Malia Scharf
Shooting for this project began more than three years ago. Although we've been limited by time and financing, we have been able to collect many hours of excellent footage. Scharf has given us incredible access to his personal life and art making for the purposes of documenting. The majority of our footage has been shot in HD, though we have also shot in mini DV, super 8 and super 16mm, as well as many archival materials in a range of mediums. We have recently been shooting interviews with friends and family members and have a list of many more compelling candidates.
Through another filmmaker who began a never-completed documentary on Scharf ten years ago, we have gained access to many hours of interesting footage, which includes interviews with Dennis Hopper, Yoko Ono and Fred Schneider of the B-52's, among others.
We have also enlisted an animator to help create rich animated sequences to bring Scharf's vibrant and colorful paintings to life. Our immediate goal is to begin securing financing to allow us to continue shooting and work towards a completed film.
WHAT THE MONEY WILL BE USED FOR:
Making movies is an expensive venture. To date, this project has been completely self-funded and we've even begun to accrue debt. Thanks to producer/director Nathan Meier's job at the film school at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), we have access to all sorts of top-notch HD, film, and sound gear at no cost. This has allowed us to get as far as we have, but we need your help to get this film finished.
The money raised will be used to keep us shooting. This is very important for us because we want our primary focus to be on the present. Kenny is currently involved in many amazing projects that take him all over the world and we want to be able to document these. We have only just begun shooting interviews and have many more to do, both in Los Angeles and New York. We feel a real sense of urgency, that now is the time to make this film a reality.
We need funds to purchase hardware and software for editing, cover travel expenses, purchase film stocks and telecine, equipment rental (when necessary), as well as the myriad of expenses that crop up during production. $15,000 is only the beginning of what we need to complete this picture, but we believe it will get us to the next stage and that much closer to a final product. Additional funds will be needed to secure licensing of archival materials, for post-production, sound mixing, scoring, marketing, distribution and paying our dedicated (and deserving) crew.
Kenny Scharf has kindly donated several incredible and fun incentives to offer our backers. Many of these items are remnants from the Scharf Schak, a store Kenny opened in Manhattan and Miami in the early '90s. The Schak was Kenny's way to make his art available to everyone and featured everything from clothing and watches to dinner plates and glasses, each featuring Kenny's signature figures and designs. These items are very limited as they are no longer being produced and are highly collectable. We also have a signed copy of the monograph "Kenny Scharf" by Rizzoli. This stunning 272 page book explores Kenny's entire artistic oeuvre. Others items are themselves limited edition works of art such as the "Object to Enjoy" (seen below).
KENNY SCHARF'S ARTIST STATEMENT:
My ambition as a professional artist is to maintain the course that I set over 30 years ago by establishing my work in the fields of painting, sculpture, and performance. Every project I undertake is building on my past experiences. My original approach is unchanged; it is a personal challenge to produce the best work possible every time. One very important and guiding principle to my work is to reach out beyond the elitist boundaries of fine art and connect to popular culture through my art. My personal ambition has always been to live the example. I believe the artist has a social responsibility to engage others in a thought process that ultimately brings the creative process into everyday life thereby enhancing the quality of our experience.
Family Portrait (2001)
KENNY SCHARF BIOGRAPHY:
Born 1958 in Los Angeles, California Lives and works in Los Angeles, CA and Brooklyn, NY Education: 1980 BFA, School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
Born in 1958 in Hollywood, California, Kenny Scharf spent much of his childhood watching television, "two inches from the screen," as he tells it. "I remember staring into it, and just watching the different, intense, brilliant colors change all the time." Not surprisingly, he credits shows such as The Jetsons, The Flintstones, and The Munsters as being more influential upon his brightly colored, phantasmagoric images than any art historical movement or style. This aside, it was unarguably Andy Warhol who determined Scharf's choice of career. Following a year of college in Santa Barbara (where he was introduced to Warhol's work in an art history class) he took off for New York to be near the Pop Art master. There he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts and befriended the likes of Keith Haring, John Sex, and Jean- Michel Basquiat, all of whom were soon to be hitting the headlines, in the art press and beyond.
During this time he created paintings that combined domestic environments with outlandish creatures and alien plants. "Barbara Simpson's New Kitchen" from 1978, for example, featured a suburban housewife poised at her kitchen sink with a strange hybrid beast - half dragon, half cat - standing equally poised in front of her. From such works Scharf's quirky sense of humor emerged, as did his characteristically exotic universe - one populated by wild, animated plants, strange blob-like forms with wide grins and clown noses, loopy abstract swirls, atmospheric planets, dinosaurs, and cartoon characters, amongst other assorted motifs. Though his work has transformed itself over the years, it has maintained its wit, brio, and "anything-can-happen" attitude.
Barbara Simpson's New Kitchen (1978)
On graduating in 1980, Scharf and Haring moved into a loft in Times Square, where they would be roommates for two years. During this time, Scharf's penchant for customizing his immediate surroundings - decorating TVs, phones, walls, and furniture with crazy, painted patterns, toy dinosaurs and plastic baubles - became more active. Transforming a local coffee shop (the Hippodrome) was his first "public project" - a temporary one as it turned out. Seeing dusty, fake green plants hanging in the otherwise bright yellow shop, Scharf approached the owner one afternoon with an idea to recolor the plants in blue and pink. To Scharf's surprise, the man agreed, though two weeks later the place was torn down.
Projects like this, as well as Scharf's ties to the East Village scene and its so-called "graffiti aesthetic" laid the groundwork for his career's explosion into the critical and public realm. Spraying mutated versions of TV icons such as Fred Flintstone all over Manhattan also raised his profile. Says Scharf: "The street recognition clicked with the paintings and people said, 'Hey, I know this guy.'" In 1985, Scharf, Basquiat, Haring and Francesco Clemente all created installations for New York's Palladium nightclub: a concerted intermingling of scenes that was characteristic of the decade.
The desire to transform everyday objects into contemporary art and to blur the lines between low and high culture exemplifies Scharf's relationship to Pop Art, and culminated in the opening of "Scharf Schaks" in Miami Beach and Manhattan's SoHo, where Scharf products - t-shirts, hats, and other items - were sold. The artist nevertheless differentiates his practice from Pop, describing it as "Pop-Surrealism". The iconography of popular culture has, he believes, become so deeply embedded within the social psyche that it is absorbed unwittingly and unconsciously, disallowing the kind of cool detachment and ironic reflection that characterized the work of his predecessors. Scharf's work is at heart socially engaged.
In the late '80s, he moved away from biomorphism to make critical paintings that used super-realist '50s advertising imagery on Abstract Expressionist backgrounds. Some of his subsequent works, such as his jungle-inspired paintings, have been pointedly ecological, while a number have dwelt on AIDS. Many others though, conjure possible worlds, as writer Richard D Marshall suggests: "Disguised as lurid, day-glo colored cartoon heads; Scharf's subjects present a surreal, yet achievable reality of a harmonious cohabitation of man, nature and the cosmos."
His art is therefore also distinguished by its essential hopefulness. "We're stuck with all these images, and all this media crap," notes Scharf. "Everybody's so wrapped up in it, but what's really important in our own world and life is completely different. So the highest priority is not the Pop imagery, it's something beyond, the cosmic inspiration." So we see that, in fact, it is the longing for a transformative experience - be it through humor or fantasy - that is the true heart of Scharf's work.
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