From the Archives: Mutants from Outer Space (1985)

in Culture

By Steven Hager

Remember how much fun art was in the ’60s? There was more freedom, more humor and more drug-crazed energy in the art world during that decade than in any other recent time. That is, until a group of renegade art students in New York began reliving the era by dropping acid, go-go dancing and holding impromptu “happenings” at a Polish social club in the East Village.

The revival, which started in 1979, was led by a 21-year-old painter named Kenny Scharf, who was later known for spray-painting Hanna-Barbera-inspired cartoons (The Flintstones, the Jetsons) on the tenement walls of New York City’s Lower East Side. At night, Scharf would return to his slum apartment and work on his private day-glo environment—where he occasionally consumed magic mushrooms while listening to Jimi Hendrix records. Scharf was born ten years too late to fully experience the ’60s, but he was determined not to miss out on them altogether.

In the beginning, public reaction to Scharf’s art work was mostly negative. He was accused of ripping off Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. He was dismissed as a revivalist. He was ignored while several of his art student pals from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) became international art celebrities. Recently, however, it has become clear Scharf’s influence on the current generation of painters has been enormous. He has an impressive list of collectors waiting to buy his work (which has soared in price in the last two years), prestigious museums are negotiating to buy his paintings, and critics like Kay Larson (New York magazine) are suddenly calling him “the best painter in the urban-punk wing of the new American Surrealism.”

“It has changed the way other people look at me, but it hasn’t changed the way I look …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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