Inside the Surreal Studio of Artist Kenny Scharf
Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
Iconic contemporary artist Kenny Scharf manages to effortlessly entwine the precision of a professional painter with the spontaneous vision needed to bring his surreal imagery to life. Scharf’s calm, creative energy imbues a sense of ease and excitement into his Los Angeles art studio. He has worked in the same space for over 20 years. Every detail is personal and special, whether it’s the colorful line of trees hedging the front yard, the paint-splattered walls, or the very tools responsible for putting Scharf’s surreal vision to canvas: his paintbrush collection. When talking to Scharf, his personality has the same warmth and brightness that makes his art so easily identifiable.
Keep reading to learn more about Kenny Scharf as we ask the artist 10 questions about his creative process.
MYDOMAINE: What’s your strongest childhood memory?
KENNY SCHARF: I do have a childhood memory of enjoying painting. Nursery school. Finger painting. Three years old. I still remember it like it was yesterday: the colors, the way it looked. Everything. I already knew then that that’s what I wanted to do, and I have been doing it ever since.
MYDOMAINE: What food, drink, and music inspires you?
KS: Spicy food inspires me. I always like hot, spicy things. Ah, drink? Depends. I mean, tequila can be inspiring! I listen to music all the time, when I’m working and even when I’m not, and I just like lots of different kinds of music. It really depends on my mood. I like the blues, I like jazz, Brazilian music, samba, punk rock. I like everything, really.
MYDOMAINE: What do you dislike about the art world?
KS: I don’t like the obsession or fixation on the price of things. I remember when I first started that when people talked about art, they focused on what the art was and what it meant and how it kind of made an impact in our history and that seemed to be the focus. Now it seems to be how much something sold for, which I find to be kind of sad. I don’t condemn, obviously, art for money because that’s how I make my living, but I do find it to be sad when people talk only about the price of something. They’ll say “such-and-such or so-and-so sold something on auction for this,” and they’re like, “Oh, wow.” No one says, “What was the piece? What was the piece about?” There’s no discussion anymore. And I find that the business side of art has pretty much taken over the real critical thinking and talking about art.
MYDOMAINE: What superpower would you have and why?
KS: It would be fun to fly. And why? Because I think it would be fun, and I mean, there are so many things you could do if you could fly [chuckles]. Fly to anything. It would be fun to make murals anywhere you want. You could just go to the top of a giant building and paint on it.
MYDOMAINE: Name three artists you admire or who you would want to work with.
KS: Well, there are so many artists. There’s a group show going on next month where I’m going to be hanging next to a Yves Tanguy and a [Giorgio] de Chirico and an Ed Ruscha. So I’m going to be hanging next to those artists’ three paintings, so I think that’s cool.
MYDOMAINE: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
KS: I often tell this to younger artists that are wanting success and getting their name or their foot in the door or a gallery: The main thing is just not worry about it, and focus on the work. Just focus on making really great things that are so compelling that a gallery will want to have your art. It doesn’t go the other way around. You can’t get a gallery unless you got the work. Thinking about a gallery or thinking about your career or whatever is not going to help you make great work.
MYDOMAINE: What role does the artist have in society?
KS: Well, there is not one role. There are many roles. It all depends on which role you want to take. I mean, some artists are just satisfied selling stuff and having it hang on a wall, and they make a living, and there’s nothing wrong with that. And some artists want more. They want to change the world through art. I’m not sure [my art] is changing the world, but I definitely want to inspire and to reach out and to get people thinking, and I do want to make an impact on the world more than just being in the art world. I feel like the world itself is the place. Not like I don’t like the art world or don’t want to be a part of it, but I always felt and still do that I want to get out of the confines of this world and just be in the world of art.
MYDOMAINE: What is your favorite color?
KS: It all depends on my mood, really. If it’s really cold out, I might want red to warm me up. If it’s really hot out, I might be looking for greens and blues. Actually, I’m more into not so much colors, but color combos. I really like opposites. So I like orange and blue, purple and yellow, red and green. Those are the opposites, and I get excited when the opposites are next to each other.
MYDOMAINE: What person, dead or alive, would you invite for dinner?
KS: Do I want education? Do I want entertainment? It’s hard to say. Let’s just say Hieronymus Bosch. He might be really scary. Can you imagine what he was like as a person? Did he even eat? Seems like he was just on a spiritual plane or something.
MYDOMAINE: What is one item that you cannot live without?
KS: Nature. Trees. I need trees.
Browse some of our favorite art books inspired by the works of Kenny Scharf:
To see Scharf's work for yourself, visit his most recent mural, located inside the lobby of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Starting in October, Scharf’s work will be featured in Totah Museum’s Cosmic Connections exhibition in New York City.
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