Honor Fraser Gallery is pleased to present Optimistically Melting!, an exhibition of new work by Kenny Scharf.
Defying expectations has long been a hallmark of the work of Kenny Scharf. Taught to revere Abstract Expressionism in art school during the ’70s, Scharf chose to paint cartoon figures and used outlandish colors. Frustrated with the inaccessible gallery and museum system in the 80s, he spray-painted his work throughout New York City, ensuring that everyone could see his bold work. Along with his peers, Scharf has always pushed against the boundaries of the established art world and pursued his own artistic path that encompasses painting, video, sculpture, prints, fashion, and more.
After four decades of constant production, Scharf’s latest group of paintings introduces a new subject: the still life. The trope of flowers in a vase appears throughout Western art, notably in the work of artists such as Jan Brueghel the Elder, Vincent Van Gogh, and Andy Warhol. In Flores Flores Flores (2019), happy flowers spring from a vase casually set on a table at the center. Closer inspection finds a less happy flower at the edge of the table with X’s over its eyes, a cartoon signifier of death. Further, the viewer notices the drips of darkness in the background, adding to a growing sense of unease in the work, something sinister lurks behind the pleasant centerpiece. These signifiers of global anxiety become more overt in the artist’s Sloppy Melt series of paintings, also to be included in the exhibition, which feature dripping cartoon figures and screen-printed news headlines in English and Korean about climate change. With clear memories of smog days as a child growing up in Southern California, environmental concerns have appeared throughout Scharf’s oeuvre. The artist believes it is important to be mindful of future damage we will cause to the environment if we continue to prioritize comfort and ease in the present.
In the 80s, Kenny Scharf began collecting plastic detritus that he found along the beach in Brazil, where he was living at the time. The artist would assemble these discarded items into sculptures for the wall, giving them new life as aesthetic objects called Lixos (“trash” in Portuguese). Though the sculptural practice has continued intermittently, Scharf made a habit of collecting discarded plastics from around the world, which have not degraded over the years. More recently, the artist began collecting all of his single-use plastics and stringing them together as a garland around his studio, a constant reminder of daily waste. In light of the current reckoning with the overproduction of plastics and climate change denial, Scharf will present a new body of Lixos in the gallery along with a giant garland wrapped around the outside of the building. Materials for the garland will be collected at Honor Fraser Gallery throughout the summer and leading up to the exhibition. In addition to creating a personal alternative to recycling methods that require more toxic chemicals, Scharf aims to shine more light on this urgent issue. As in his paintings, deep concerns about our future lie beneath these brightly colored works.
Expanding his sculptural practice, Kenny Scharf will unveil a group of large ceramics featuring his signature characters in the round. Produced in collaboration with Stan Edmondson in Pasadena, these works were fired locally and hand-glazed by the artist. Bordering on living sculpture, the pots will contain greenery to be nurtured beyond the term of the exhibition, a gesture of possibility and hope rom the artist. In addition to converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, caring for plants has proven to be a beneficial practice for humans as it requires patience, reduces stress, and promotes close observation. These plants grown by the artist himself contain Scharf’s intention for a more respectful and conscientious future.
Kenny Scharf was born in 1958 in Los Angeles and lives in Los Angeles. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 1980. Honor Fraser Gallery has presented five exhibitions of Scharf’s work to date: BLOX and BAX (2017); Born Again (2015); Pop Renaissance (2013); Hodgepodge (2012); and Barberadise (2009). One-person exhibitions of Scharf’s work have been presented at the Lotte Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea (2018); Hillstrom Museum of Art, St. Peter, MN (2018); the Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, NY (2016); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2015); Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR (2015); Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA (2004); Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles (2001); Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, OR (1999); Salvador Dalí Museum, Saint Petersburg, FL (1997); University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, IL (1997); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico (1996); and Museum of Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale, FL (1995). The Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson will present Scharf’s career retrospective in Spring 2020.
Scharf’s work has been included in group exhibitions such as Under One Roof, Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2018); Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2017); Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2017); Holdings: Selections from MCASD’s Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA (2016); and Urban Theater: New York in the 1980s, The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX (2014).
Scharf’s public artworks are on view at the Bluffs at Playa Vista, CA; Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, Los Angeles; Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA; Davis Bros Tire Pros, Culver City, CA; West Adams Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles; Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA; and other locations around the world.
Scharf’s work can be found in many public collections including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.