Kenny Scharf’s Fun Factory
I sensed there was something important Kenny wanted to tell me. After all, that’s what Min, his assistant, told me when she let me in. But it’s taking Kenny an unusually long time to get around to the subject at hand.
Finally, he pulls out a proof of my Art After Midnight cover that I’d delivered the previous day and waves his hands around, searching for words to express his feelings.
“Don’t you think a different painting would work better?” he gently says finally.
Art After Midnight is primarily about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, but it’s clearly centered on Scharf, and I’d picked his painting, “When World’s Collide,” as the Guernica of the East Village art movement, which is why I wanted it on the cover. Flick Ford had sized the painting to its maximum for the page, but that still left a huge blank space, which Flick had filled with his own art piece, creating an illustration in place of a typeface and customizing it with his own esthetic. I thought the two pieces worked together, but I suddenly wondered if the lettering wasn’t overwhelming the painting a bit, which is obviously what was bothering Kenny. But when I called the printer, I discovered it was too late to change, which spared me any further aggravation or having to confront Flick. Fortunately, this faux pax didn’t cost my relationship with Kenny, but I sometimes wonder if he cringes whenever he sees it.
You see, The Merry Pranksters had been my primary role models from the age of 15 (1966), and it was from them I first learned about magic. After an explosive blow-up with my family (detailed in my just-released ebook, The Steam Tunnels), I moved into the empty basement of our home. Very quickly, I painted the white walls with a bucket of battleship grey I’d found, painting huge, swirling faces with the ease of a zen master, even though I’d never done anything like that before (or since). All these ghostly blobs were positive, with happy faces, except one, which unexpectedly turned out very scary-looking.That face was so scary I had to avoid it when I was tripping. I had one step in the darkside at the time, still seeking my eventual path in life. But the Pranksters had redirected me solidly on the path of the Fun Vibe. I hung blankets and bedspreads to divide the room into three sections, and built my art and music studio in the largest one. I began studying the bass guitar in earnest so I could join a garage band, my principle ambition since my friend John Hayes said I could join The Knight Riders if I learned bass, even though Donnie Perino, their current bass player, was probably the best musician in central Illinois.
Many years later, I was passing through town and discovered my parent’s were in the process of covering up my basement murals with sheet-rock. Most of the room was already done, but I did manage to go down with my friend Maarten and get a photo of the spooky face before it was covered up. For some reason, I felt it important to document. Imagine my surprise, when I found myself in New York, 15 years later, confronted by this young Kenny Scharf, who had just usurped the entire Prankster movie by taking it to another level. It was like having my whole life’s journey vindicated in some strange way.
By customizing your existence you create a magically-charged environment. The altar plays an obvious focal point in many ceremonies, and helps focus and center whatever vibration you’re channeling, but the Pranksters and Kenny learned that when you crawl inside your altar, you can spiritually charge everything around you, and open portals to other dimensions if you’re lucky. And when this happens, a tremendous burst of creative energy is released. That is magic. Of course, you can scout any trail you want, energy comes in many flavors, but Kenny was hip to the Fun Vibe, and helped me understand and process a lot of what I’d been through in the ’60s and point me in the right direction again at a time when it was hard to stay centered. It was so weird because the entire art establishment was trying to write Kenny off as “lightweight”, while I found him to be one of the most spiritually enlightened people I’d ever encountered.
Anyway, what I really want to tell you is that Art After Midnight, long out-of-print, can be found on Amazon, Smashwords and iTunes.