SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! I think that I have found my new favorite artist in viewing Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide. The mercurial artist is showcased in a compassionate and celebratory documentary that traces Scharf’s early development as a product of the San Gabriel Valley to his current status as a champion of arts education and inclusion. Directed by Max Basch and Malia Scharf, we get current footage depicting where the man is today mixed with recollections and jaw-dropping archival footage and photos, a reflection on the life of an artist living among greats.
As mentioned, Scharf was born and raised in the Valley. A handsome loner, his aesthetic began to emerge in high school. He gained traction by creating art from popular culture, using imagery that had flashed before him a million times before through television, print, and the endless parade of commercialism that was living in middle-class southern California of the late 1970s. The Hanna Barbera characters were a particular inspiration. After arriving at art school in New York City and following the sound of Devo’s “Whip It” to a room, he discovered a young Keith Haring. The two hit it off, and Scharf was suddenly in the middle of a clique that any art major would kill to be a part of. Along with Haring, there was Jean Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol among their regular party pals.
“…traces Scharf’s early development…to his current status as a champion of arts education…”
The documentary keeps a very clear narrative as Basch and Scharf not only educate the audience on their subject but allow the artist to speak for himself. Deftly cutting between recollection, actual footage, and interviews, we are given a glorious picture of a true living artist with all of his struggles, insecurities, dreams, and ultimate redemption. We are allowed to watch as Scharf honestly opens up about how difficult it was to see his roommate and dear friend Haring suddenly be discovered by the New York art scene and propelled to success and stardom. We learn how Scharf was part of the vanguard of bringing art to the masses while others found financial success in doing so. We learn how years later, he is still creating, still innovating.
I could easily recount every notion, every twist and turn that Scharf faced in his journey as an artist, but that would be tantamount to robbing you of the experience that has been expertly pieced together here. This is the harrowing, heartbreaking, ultimately affirming story of Kenny Scharf, and I urge you to see it.
To sum everything up, at one point in the film, Scharf is working on a gigantic wall mural as a passerby admires the capricious visuals. Scharf stops his work, makes friends with the stranger, and paints a quick piece of spray can art on the passerby’s denim jacket. The new fan and friend is overcome with joy, marked by art, and sent off into the world better for it. This scene embodies not only Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide but the work of Scharf. Art connects.
Kenny Scharf: When Worlds Collide screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…harrowing, heartbreaking, ultimately affirming..."