Artist: Kenny Scharf
Title: Unique Surfboard
Size: 195.6 x 50.8 x 6.4 cm. (77 x 20 x 2 1/2 in.)
Medium: Spray Paint on Surf Board
Edition: Unique Original 1 of 12
Notes: Signed and numbered 'Tim Bessell 1/12 Kenny Scharf' on the reverse.
Kenny Scharf is a legendary American artist who was a pioneer in the iconic 1980s East Village street art scene in New York. Together with artists such as Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scharf helped spearhead the aesthetics of the era, co-authoring arguably the most essential chapter in street art history by positioning it as an equal player on the contemporary art world’s main stage. Today, the Californian is widely recognised as one of the most important figures in the ‘Lowbrow Pop Surrealism’ art movement, which is characterised by abstract imagery merging with dreamy cartoon characters, and is rooted in comics, punk music, and graffiti and street culture.
Like many other children growing up during Pop Art's cultural boom in the 1960s, Scharf was greatly impacted by images of popular and commercial culture that permeated and shaped American collective consciousness. But, unlike other kids, Scharf's interests went beyond clipping out photographs from magazines to stick on his bedroom wall. Instead, he found joy in finding expression on the streets, where, with a spray paint can in hand, he could share his unique, Day-Glo, psychedelic pictures with the public.
In his works, Scharf employs a range of techniques, media and allusions to create hallucinatory compositions bursting with bright colours, bold patterns, and dreamlike metaphors, featuring a host of anthropomorphic creatures, extraterrestrial beings, and comic book motifs.
A Unique Statement Against Marine Pollution
In 2012, Scharf decided to take his practice one step further by working on a unique partnership with Parley – a group and platform raising awareness about the major threats towards our oceans, which are the most important ecosystem of our planet. As Scharf explained, ‘I am obsessed with plastic in our oceans and I jumped at the chance to do anything with other people that are also sharing that obsession.’ Parley’s Global Cleanup Network has a special focus on protecting the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico where the group have been active since 2017, and where Scharf himself has spent numerous years.
Scharf created a small group of only twelve individually painted surfboards, with each considered a unique composition that transcends the boundaries of conventional surfboards to become artworks in their right. The legendary surfboard maker Tim Bessell hand shaped each board composed of recycled material, which Scharf then used as his canvas to paint onto with variations of his neon, cartoonish grinning faces, which have been a signature of the artist’s work since 1981.
Kenny Scharf x Parley, Surfboards, 2021
Image/Artwork: © 2023 Kenny Scharf / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The animated faces on each of these surfboards are replete with emotions ranging from jubilance to wrath, each deeply imbued with the artist’s signature aesthetic, and each possessing a unique character that tells a story. Composed of vibrant orange, the present work features a wide-smiling face with sparkling teeth and round green eyes detailed with black line. The imagined creature’s expression is one of joy and good humour, which metaphorically contrasts the underlying themes the painting also represents.
As a keen lover of the ocean, Scharf has been collecting plastic pollution from beach shorelines since the 1980s, often incorporating it into his art and art installations. With the present work, Scharf not only highlights the dangers of plastic and other human-made materials on our planet, he also innovatively showcases how art can be used as a means of creating impact and spreading messages about the importance of environmental conservation. As such, the present work is not just a product of Scharf’s artistic genius, but is also a testament to Kenny Scharf’s artistic and environmental values and his ability to transform something mundane into something extraordinary.