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Art | ART REVIEW

A Toned-Down Kenny Scharf

July 23, 1998|CLAUDINE ISE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Only a grinch could resist the buffoonish charm and giddy energy of Kenny Scharf's lush, loopy paintings, which typically depict outer space or jungle landscapes peopled by clown-nosed creatures, googly-eyed monsters, three-eyed gnomes and glowering blue meanies.

Scharf's new paintings at Kantor Gallery--his first L.A. solo show since 1986--are far less riotous than what we've come to expect from this artist, who gained his reputation during the 1980s as the premier party boy/court jester of New York's celebrity art scene. Forgoing his characteristic all-over approach to the canvas, Scharf's recent biomorphic landscapes contain vast empty spaces and depict semi-abandoned interplanetary outposts that evoke the deepest recesses of the mind.

A true TV baby, the L.A.-born, Miami-based Scharf refuses to draw a dividing line between high and low culture. Like Rorschach blots, Scharf's globs can be whatever you want them to be: surreal sexual organs, Dali-inspired liquid landscapes or the artist's own psychic playground, where Modern art's ego battles it out with Hanna-Barbera's id.

Despite their comic affability, a sense of loneliness permeates works like "Planetazul" and "Vulaza," both painted this year. Friendly worms poke their heads out from underground, as if searching for some companionship and a bit of fun. It's impossible not to think of these paintings in terms of the deaths of Scharf's close friends Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Tseng Kwong Chi.

Scharf appears to be struggling to find his place in a stripped-down, post-Pop world. Familiar Scharf icons like Felix the Cat, Wilma Flintstone and Elroy Jetson make brief reappearances in his new work, but these '60s-era relics are no longer the potent cultural signifiers they once were. Now at the midpoint of his career, Scharf must confront the threatening forces of entropy and inertia. Whether he wins or loses this battle remains to be seen.

*

* Kantor Gallery, 8642 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 659-5388, through Sept. 10. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

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