Kenny Scharf - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I like to mix it all together, European sources and the mass media. I feel the world is like that -a complete mixture of everything…I guess I’m doing abstract paintings and making them a little less abstract by putting faces on them.”
    — Kenny Scharf
    Kenny Scharf’s Quark envisions a world where energy and creative freedom abound on every level. Its title references the subatomic building block of every form of matter, but the word itself comes from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, the modernist novel which stretched fiction to polyphonic, bewildering new heights. Just as that book built a world of new meanings from hundreds of existing languages and stories, Scharf channels a diverse set of personal influences -from graffiti to Hanna-Barbera to Colour Field- into a fractal playground of colour and line, where cartoon faces and snap across the canvas with Expressionist rhythm. New patterns, symmetries, and details emerge with every new viewing -but every speck of this intricate composition carries a joyous, uncontainable force.
    Scharf’s creative vision has deep roots, not inspired by the fine arts or indeed any established art form, but his own childhood habit of visual deconstruction. On first seeing a colour television at the age of seven, he says, ‘I would put my nose right onto the screen and because the first color television screen was black with lots of colored dots that changed color according to the image screened, I could feel the explosion of colors…when you look at an image so close-up you see something very different, very abstract’i
    This practice -of breaking down popular images and reshaping them in startling new ways- was further encouraged by developments in Pop Art, but also the more local car customisations of ‘Big Daddy’ Roth and the mass-produced, yet spectacularly grotesque, merchandise illustrations of Basil Wolverton. On moving to New York as a student, he continued this by spray-painting the Jetsons and Flintstones onto both East Side buildings and gallery canvases, eventually gaining the confidence to incorporate his own characters alongside references to classical and Surrealist art. Increasing prestige with galleries and museums has not stopped him from expanding his range of media, either: murals, proto-emoji tondo paintings, surfboards, carousels, and car customisations of his own are just some of his many installation projects made since then.
    Basil Wolverton, LEAF “Fink Button”, 1965

    From the 1980s onwards, this growing creativity was not just influenced by further art history influences, including the rapturous Colour Field work of Larry Poons and Kenneth Noland, but by other impacts on the East Village movement and wider world. Many of his friends and influences in it, including his roommate Keith Haring, achieved great success throughout the decade before dying in the HIV/AIDS epidemic: ‘the ambience changed…it’s kind of hard to celebrate your success when people or friends are dying’ii.


    In more recent years, he has also been troubled by the climate crisis, but all along the joyous faces have kept appearing. These are not meant to ignore the dangers and losses of the real world, but to fight them: ‘I’m a realist and I see every little piece of shit that’s freaking out. And if I’m not an optimist I will kill myself…It makes me happy if I make a perfect smile, I feel like that smile, you know?’iii Scharf’s positivity is not a cheap advertisement: like the artistic skill that boosts it, it is hard-won, constantly impressive, and always palpable.


    Larry Poons, Handmaiden, 2007
    Sold by Phillips New York for US$137,500, 27 February 2019
    Artwork: © 2024 Larry Poons / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Born in 1958 in Los Angeles, Kenny Scharf moved to New York in 1978 to earn a BFA at the School of Visual Arts, and flourished in the countercultural East Village movement alongside Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His unmistakably vibrant, childlike experiments across art forms, from murals to tondo paintings to surfboards, have attracted continuing praise and exposure across the art world, with recent exhibitions at the Journal Gallery in New York (Evolution Revolution) and Sogetsu Museum in Tokyo (I’m Baaaack) in 2023, and a collaboration with Dior in 2021.


    This coincides with continuing strong results at auctions, his best being in May 2022 for almost $1 million, and acquisitions by world-renowned public collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul. Most recently, he released a set of silkscreen prints of his 1999 painting Earthworld, in celebration of Earth Day this year.


    iJeffrey Deitch, 'Kenny Scharf in conversation with Lio Malca', in exh. cat., MOODZ, Geneva, 2021, p. 15

    iiScharf in conversation with Dan Golden, Curator, 4 May 2020, online


    • Provenance

      Almine Rech, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Almine Rech, Vaxi Nation, 21 January - 6 March 2021




signed, titled and dated '"Quark" K Scharf '21' on the reverse
oil and spray paint on linen
121.9 x 152.7 cm. (48 x 60 in.)
Executed in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

HK$700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for HK$825,500

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2014

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024