SCHARF ATTACK! THE ICONIC KENNY SCHARF LOOKS BACK ON ART & NIGHTLIFE PAST

WE MET AT CLUB 57 IN THE EAST VILLAGE IN THE EARLY 80’S. WE WERE YOUNG ADULTS FROM DISPARATE PARTS OF THE GLOBE, CONVERGING UNREHEARSED INTO A PERMANENT ADVENTURE. WE HAD LITTLE IN COMMON UNTIL FATE TUSSLED OUR PSYCHICS INTO A DYNAMIC JUMBLE OF PERPETUAL ENERGY. WE HAD NAMES LIKE JOHN SEX, JEAN CAFFEINE, WENDY WILD AND VAN CHROME. WE MERGED WITH THE ALCHEMY OF MYTH AND MAGIC, OF MISSION AND PURPOSE. WE WERE, AND STILL ARE, THE PRODUCT OF COUNTER- CULTURE, POP-SURREALISM AND ETERNAL YOUTH. OUR LEGACY IS YOUR CURIOSITY.
TEXT Oliver Sanchez
PHOTOGRAPHY Kenny Scharf, Oliver Sanchez and Kerry McLaney

 

 

OLIVER SANCHEZ: HEY KENNY! SORRY WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO SKYPE BEFORE YOU TOOK OFF TO BRAZIL. I HEARD YOU HAD ANOTHER WILD ‘COSMIC CAVERN’ NIGHT AT THE BUSHWICK STUDIO. YOU ALWAYS SAY THAT IT’S THE LAST COSMIC CAVERN, BUT THEN THERE IS ALWAYS ANOTHER! WHY IS IT SO HARD TO STOP THE PARTY?

KENNY SCHARF: The Cosmic Cavern a GoGo is not over, it’s just taken a different approach. The other parties were free-for-alls where everyone is welcome and that worked well, but then they got too popular and out of control and I couldn’t have fun as I was too worried about crowds and fire and scary stuff. This time there were no Facebook invites just invites via email, and a strict dress code enforced (day-glo) which made the party less crowded and more fun worry free and more room to jerk, shake and shimmy! So the party continues metamorphosizing…

 

OS: HOW COULD I EVER FORGET THE VERY FIRST BLACK-LIGHT CLOSET IN THAT CRAZY APARTMENT YOU AND KEITH HARING HAD NEAR TIME SQUARE BACK IN 1982. SOON AFTER, THE WHITNEY MUSEUM ASKED YOU TO MAKE A CLOSET FOR THEIR BIENNIAL. I REMEMBER WE HAD THEM KEEP THE PLACE OPEN 24/7  FOR VISITORS. THAT IS WHEN I FIRST MET ANDY WARHOL. HE CAME BY ONE NIGHT TO GAWK AT THE “WILD ONES”. THE RECIPE FOR THESE OUTRAGEOUS INSTALLATIONS REMAINS UNCHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS. THE AIRSTREAM TRAILER WE MADE IN WYNWOOD, MIAMI FOR TONY GOLDMAN IS A FINE EXAMPLE. HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE THE CHANGES MIAMI HAS EXPERIENCED IN RECENT YEARS?

KS: That Whitney backlight closet (1985) was great as I had all the telephone booths in my room and I gave people the phone numbers and it started ringing all the time! It was a party at the Whitney, I think to their chagrin, actually. Andy would call and I was so exited to have him join us! I was happy to make the CosmicAirstream last year with you almost like old times and it is also nice to come back to Miami to make something fun that gets to stay there! Tony Goldman’s Wynwood Walls and Primary Flight are a really nice addition to the Miami art street scene and I really like the impact it has made on the neighborhoods. I think Swampspace is the hottest gallery in Miami though!

 

 

OS: I REMEMBER WHEN YOU DECIDED TO MOVE THE WHOLE NYC JALOPY TO MIAMI BEACH. IT WAS 1992 AND WE HAD A GREAT LIFE IN NY WITH THE GIANT STUDIO ON GANSVOORT AND GREENWICH WHEN THE WEST VILLAGE WAS ALL BURGER-MAKERS AND DRAG-QUEENS. SOUTH BEACH WAS NOT MUCH DIFFERENT, BUT IT HAD THE OCEAN AND A PROMISE OF GREAT ENTHUSIASM. WHAT ARE YOUR FONDEST SECRET MEMORIES OF THOSE EARLY YEARS IN SOUTH BEACH?

KS: I remember when we moved to Miami in ’92 and what I really liked was that it reminded me of the old East Village days with the combination of Ukrainians, Puerto Ricans and bohemian artist types, only it had old Jews, Cubans and bohemian artist types. It was like East Village on the beach, and oh how I love the beach! There was a feeling of innocence that anything was possible in the no-mans’ land of yore. I really liked the moment when we arrived and the whole place felt undiscovered and we could hang out at the Raleigh Hotel before it was open and have the pool and high dive all to ourselves! I also loved painting on the 9th floor of the then abandoned Tides Hotel. I love decrepit grandeur!

 

OS: TIDES WAS THE BOMB. BUT AFTER SEVEN YEARS IN THE SWAMP, YOUR PARTING WAS SUCH A SWEET AND SOUR FUNK, WHEN YOU MOVED TO LA TO PERUSE ANIMATION. I HAD TO STAY IN MIAMI. YOUR LEAVING WAS A GIANT LOSS BECAUSE WE WERE LEFT ALL ALONE WITH THAT BRITTO THING. LUCKILY, MIAMI BEGAN TO BLOSSOM WITH THE ARTS AWAKENING WE NOW SEE EVERYWHERE. STREET ART IS CLAIMING IT’S RIGHTFUL PLACE AND MOST FOLK WELCOME IT WITH OPEN EYES. WHO DO YOU CONSIDER CHAMPIONS OF THIS MOVEMENT TO SHARE ART WITH THE MULTITUDES?

KS: There are so many great paintings in the street in Miami now. I especially love the Os Gemeos wall among others…

 

OS: TRUE, TOO MANY TO MENTION. ART HAS THE ABILITY TO TRANSFORM PEOPLE AND COMMUNITIES, I THINK IT IS A UNIFYING FORCE, WHEN ART GOES UP, CRIME GOES DOWN, THAT’S A FACT. YOU ARE LIKE A FATHER NOW TO SO MANY CREATIVE MINDS. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL JOURNEY, YOUR UPS AND DOWNS, YOUR PRACTICES AND TECHNIQUES FOR SUCCESS. WHAT HAPPENED THAT MAKES LIFE SO GREAT?

KS: Life continues to surprise and art is the reason why. Yes there have been many ups and downs, but the belief in art and all the power it brings is the constant that keeps all the insanity from taking over. Art is the thing to hold on to when times are bad and good. It is religion. Oh Olibird, even though I don’t see you daily anymore, you and I are always brothers and we will continue to be connected in art and life!  My main concern for future generations is the same and unfortunately the danger looms imminent — the degradation of our environment due to the dependance on fossil fuels: the inability to change course due to the ‘powers-that-be’ that control our resources and our ability to make the needed changes in order to stop the reckless path we are on.

 

 

OS:  I HOPE EVERYONE OUT THERE HAS SOMEONE LIKE YOU IN THEIR LIVES — YOU REALLY HAVEN’T CHANGED ONE BIT SINCE WE MET IN IN THE STONE AGE. BUT THE WORLD SURE SEEMS A LOT DIFFERENT NOW. WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT THE WORLD TODAY? HOW CAN WE MAKE THIS PLACE BETTER FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN?

KS: I am always optimistic. It is in my nature. But I’m also aware of the danger of not responding to the alarms going off in our faces! What can we do? Stop shopping needlessly. Ride a bike. Plant trees. Start doing something!

 

 

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