By James Schiff
It’s a cool Spring morning in Southern California. A light breeze flips a few dry leaves into the parking garage of the Pasadena Museum of Contemporary Art. Immediately, the leaves realize they are not alone. Staring down at them from all angles are aliens. They are creatures of odd shapes, sizes, and colors so fantastic they’re frankly unbelievable. The leaves catch another gust and make their exit, but Kenny Scharf’s pop art mural, along with all of its fantastic characters, remains.
Though the PMCA garage installation, known as the “Kosmic Krylon Garage” is but one mural commissioned by Scharf in his hometown of Los Angeles, it’s a good place to start when getting to know the artist. With only a handful of walls to showcase his work, the garage shows Scharf’s detail and creativity in a place whose purpose is far from artistic.
Kenny Scharf is a true Angeleno. Born in Hollywood in 1958, the artist has had an illustrious career with his art gracing the walls of galleries from Tokyo and Luzern to Kalamazoo and Santa Monica. While his medium is apt to change from bronze sculpture to acrylic paint to literal trash (known as Lixo), his creativity remains throughout every pop piece he produces. Whether he’s working with Mercedes, Diane Von Furstenberg or Jeremy Scott, Scharf always brings his trademark energy to the table.
Though schooled at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Scharf has largely remained in Los Angeles, contributing to galleries and walls across the city. So why focus on the PMCA installation for this profile? Aside from its convenient location on the outskirts of Old Pasadena, the garage is the perfect personification of Scharf’s range. His creativity, color choice, variability, and energy are all on display throughout the garage’s varied surfaces.
The PMCA garage is small. There are enough spots for maybe 30 cars, including handicap parking spots. And with a small garage, comes only a handful of walls which are well-suited for art. At least, that’s how an artist who lacks the imagination of Scharff, would see the space. In reality, Scharf covers the space, from walls and columns to rouge pipes jutting out from the ceiling, in paint. He works with the space, turning things like sprinklers or fire alarms into props, convincing guests of the museum there natural purposes is an artistic one.
The thing that makes Kenny Scharf such an exciting artist is his ability to translate motion effortlessly into his art. In any piece, his character’s feel like they’re in flight; living bursts of electricity zipping through the frame with explosive energy.
And throughout his catalog of works, that energy is no more on display than in “Kosmic Krylon Garage.” The entire installation feels almost like a movie. Each one of his characters looks like they’re liable to break out of the wall at any minute and rocket towards the stars. Some are smiling, some frowning, some look like happy butterflies, and others take the shape of more sinister characters like an angry mushroom cloud or a snarling face. Regardless of their shape, however, they showcase Scharf’s energy and pop art style.
About the objective of his art, Scharf says, “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.”All of which he accomplishes in “Kosmic Krylon Garage.”