Kenny Scharf "wallworks" mural at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Photo I PtD.
When local street art aficionados read the new bio “Kenny Scharf: In Absence of Myth” by G. James Daichendt, they may wonder if the artist should be headlining the garage under the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas.
That’s where infamous street artists were invited to be part of “Wallworks” in 2011. The installations have an informal hierarchy. The floors that fill up fast, and have more eyes for the elevator entrance where the murals are featured, an appropriately underground location, has Shepard Fairey and Retna adding to their myth.
Their floors are above Scharf's images of animated faces, squiggles, and "Las Vegas" in toonesque letters, a personal style that came from loving animation as a child living in cul-de-sac confines of southern California. Daichendt’s bio on Schraf, released in December 2016, shows how parking level B4 has direct pedigree to long street art history.
The bio reveals the Pop-artist is an original muse to today’s street art. After art school Scharf went to New York where he socially and aesthetically interweaved with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as Daichendt notes. It led to the attitude and language now associated with street art; including sharing pithy critiques of the art world and consumer culture while trying to infiltrate it.
Daichendt follows Scharf through the 90s and brings us to the current decade to remind us that Fairey, Retna, and Scharf teamed on another site; The West Hollywood Library, guided by the city of West Hollywood, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and prompted by MOCA’s "Art in the Streets" in 2011.
“Along with Shepard Fairey and Retna, Kenny was asked to paint on this monstrous surface," Daichendt writes. "Spray painting had always had a big impact in Kenny’s art, and while he never called himself a graffiti artist, he was clearly being written into its history."
Softly Daichendt appends Scharf’s early maverick attitudes to a recovering spirituality, allowing the author to read this artists philosophy with insight of a theologian. Now, that is one heady idea that comes out of this illustrated storytelling bio, yet the read is still inviting to a broader audience. Emerging street artist readership who get their news about art online will feel at home with forty chapters that read like frequent posts. Still, the author finds narrative arcs, both high and low. Like any long career there are many.
Some are emotional. In the chapter “Good Bye Friend” Scharf recalls Haring’s deterioration and passing, and Daichendt has the reader witness the final intimate moment without feeling like they are intruding.
That tone for “In Absence of Myth” has Daichendt leave out stoic critique seen in his previous bios. He leaves that to Scharf who is fully willing to self-critique the paths he wandered on. That makes to be more than a biography of an artist. It offers some backstory of an art movement old enough to have a real history.
Kenny Scharf in front of his mural at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in 2010. Courtesy The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
Above: Stephen Hendee created sculpture for the celebration of 30 years of public art programming in the City of Las Vegas.