Tag Archives: kenny scharf

Street Art on Cars: “Lamest of Lame Sauce” or “Coolest Thing Ever”?

Artist Kenny Scharf is, as Ron Burgundy might say, kind of a big deal. Actually he really is a big deal. His artwork has appeared in the streets and on the walls of galleries and museums worldwide in a career that has spanned nearly four decades.

Scharf has got an iconic body of work, mostly paintings of often contorted retro-futuristic comic heads and faces in a style like those of 1960’s-era Hanna-Barbera cartoons “The Jetsons” and “The Flinstones.”

We’ve documented some his artwork over the years, from the streets of NYC to a recent exhibition at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (another example here and here).

Now his artwork is also appearing on a late model Honda Fit in the greater LA metro area. LA being LA, that Honda is most likely crawling at 10 miles-per-hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a SoCal freeway right now.

Artwork on cars has always left a funny taste in our mouth. When we say “artwork,” we’re not talking about the kind of decorative flourishes of paint and decals that adorn classic cars, low riders, racing cars or hot rods. That shit is legit.  It’s for the car. It’s part of the car as an expression of the car’s owner in service of the vehicle’s style. It’s decorative and artful and a craft that is a byproduct of car culture itself.

No, what we’re talking about here is when an artist that has nothing to do with cars puts their artwork on a moving vehicle, merely using the car as a canvas on wheels. Sometimes it works amazingly well and can stop us in our tracks and put a smile on our face. And sometimes it doesn’t and we’re recoiling from the sight.

In other words, it can be really lame. In fact it can be the lamest of lame sauce. (That’s pretty fucking lame!) Or it can be the coolest thing E-V-E-R. 

Kenny’s artwork has never resonated with us in a big way in terms of aesthetic, but we like his work and we’ve always enjoyed and appreciated his art and style. His site-specific painting on a massive set of walls in the lobby of the Hammer Museum was AWESOME.

But seeing one of his iconic painted cartoon faces blazing on the side of a compact sedan parked on a Santa Monica side street just kind of made us die a little bit inside. It felt cheap. It felt too easy. It looked lame.

Maybe it was simply a matter of aesthetic: That hue of red for the face on that electric-midnight blue of that car just doesn’t feel right.

That said, street art evovled on the foundation of graffiti art, which started the tradition of “getting up” large, visually stunning graffiti on trains and commercial trucks — perfect canvases for exposing one’s work to a large citywide audience in New York back in the day. At the time, many recoiled at the sight. It was considered an eyesore. Now, we look at it differently.

Yet, for Scharf, we expect the art to be more hallowed and to look better. That might be wrong, but it’s just us. So, Kenny, dude, step away from the vehicles, bro! Step away from the vehicles.

Of course, if that Honda Fit is Kenny’s, then everything we just said above doesn’t matter. What you do to your car is your business. And more power to ya’!

Lobby Mural by Street Art Legend Kenny Scharf … Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles has an ongoing program where it invites artists to create on-site wall paintings specific to the museum in its cavernous lobby. In the current exhibition rotation is new work Brooklyn-based artist Kenny Scharf, a fixture of New York’s 1980s and ’90s East Village art scene.