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Kenny Scharf Chats About Music

May 17, 2011

80s NY underground culture has majorly influenced contemporary indie music. We’re all fans of DFA and most of us would drool over tickets to LCD show, but the sad truth is that most 20-30 year old “cool kids” are a bit disconnected from other important elements of the NY 80s scene. It’s probably due to the fact that we were all in diapers when all this was going down. Some of those important elements are the visual artists of the era. I was a little surprised at the blank stares when I started asking scenesters if they knew who Keith Harring, Kenny Scharf, or even Tom Rubnitz (video artist) were. Come on friends, Sharf painted a permanent mural at Wynwood Walls for us! These guys are standards in the 80s art world and pioneers of Pop Surrealism and/or street art. So if you’ve ever celebrated Banksy and Shepard Fairey please give a little credit to the street artists of the 80s that made it all possible and put them on your cultural radar. Even better, lets find out how their art has influenced what we listen to and see what music they like. We had the privilege of discussing some of these topics with Kenny Sharf in the interview below.

But first, a little background info on Kenny Scharf (according to Wikipedia):

Kenny Scharf (born in 1958, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California) is an American painter who lives in Brooklyn, New York. The artist received his B.F.A in 1980 at the School of Visual Arts located in New York City. Scharf’s works consist of popular culture based shows with made up science-related backgrounds. Scharf came to prominence in the 80s interdisciplinary art scene making sparkly, pop-ed and monstrous paintings and installations. Scharf uses images from the animated cartoons popular during his childhood, such as The Flintstones and The Jetsons. In 2002, he released a cartoon of his own, “The Groovenians” of which there was only one episode.

Scharf was a key figure in the East Village art scene of the 1980s, with shows at Fun gallery (1981) and Tony Shafrazi (1984), before seeing his work embraced by museums, such as the Whitney, which selected him for the 1985 Whitney Biennial. He did the album covers of The B-52’s in the mid-80s. In 1995, Scharf designed a room at the Tunnel nightclub in New York. Scharf was friends with the graffiti artist Keith Haring and appears in the documentary “The Universe of Keith Haring”….

And now our little chat:

ND: The 80s and 90s are making a heavy comeback in the pop music realm. We’ve seen lots of day glo colors coming back in music videos and pop references in lyrics.  Do you think your art has influenced indie culture/ music today?

KS: Hmm I see things all the time that I wonder if they have been looking at my art or been to the cosmic cavern but what I care mostly is if it’s done well, as when it is it makes me happy and when it’s not I feel like o jeez what did I spawn!

ND: Was there a particular type of music in NY in the 80s that captured the street art scene at the time?

KS: Well street art and graffiti were somewhat separate in the musical tastes before they meshed and I guess the music did too. Graffiti was linked of course to rap and early on with the sounds like the sugar hill gang. Street art was linked to more new wave/ punk like konk. When they meshed it made sounds like e.s.g.

ND: Do you think the message you sent out when you started making art has reached today’s youth (those born in the 80s-90s)? What was that message?

KS: I think some of my messages have reached the youth but I would rather hear it from them! Art was so stuffy when I arrived in n.y. In the late 70s that it was a natural reaction for us to take it to the streets and the nightclubs and let loose and not take yourself too seriously because that is stifling!

ND: If your art had a voice, what would it sound like?

KS: It depends on the art I’m making sometimes it would be gogo others glitter, mowtown or bossa nova.

ND: Name some of your favorite musical acts you listen to while creating art. How do you think their music influences your process?

KS: I use the rhythm and energy of music almost always when I’m creating. I sing and dance too while I’m working! As I said I like all kinds of music like the B52s, T-Rex , Stevie Wonder, Tom jobim.

ND: Have you heard any new (non-mainstream) bands or acts that have blown you away lately? How were you introduced?

KS: I saw LCD soundsystem in Miami beach they were amazing!

There you have it 🙂


Konk – Your Life

ESG  – Moody (CT Remix 12″)

B52s – Mesopotamia (Marcello Giordani edit)

LCD Soundsystem – Beat Connection [Disco Dub Version]

One Comment leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    May 17, 2011 4:10 pm

    I went to the Tunnel in the 90’s when his room was up! It was easily the coolest looking (and most VIPish) room in the place. Wow, brought back memories.

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