Kenny Scharfs Wallin NYC Richard S. Chang / Red Bull Photofiles

When Kenny Scharf was painting his mural—an orgy of candy-colored cartoon faces in various states of distortion—on the northwest corner of Houston and Bowery in downtown Manhattan, he said he wasn’t worried about graffiti writers painting over his piece, as they did to Shepard Fairey’s “May Day” mural at the same spot in July.

Kenny Scharf Quick Bio

  • Born in Los Angeles, CA
  • Resides in Brooklyn, New York
  • Created album artwork for The B-52's
  • Friends with famed NYC artist Keith Haring

“No, I’m not Shepard Fairey,” Scharf said in early December. “Not to knock him or anything, but I’m not putting up wallpaper made safely in a studio.”

Well, two weeks later graffiti writers painted over his mural, tossing up a series of throws in mostly white paint along the bottom. The Hole NYC, the art group that curates the wall, quickly painted over the blight, but the brief incident has found resonance on the Web, at the heart of which is an argument of who represents the true nature of graffiti. 

null Richard S. Chang / Red Bull Photofiles

“i never professed to being a graffiti writer but when i arrived in nyc in 78 i quickly met many artists and writers and i would bomb the city up and down manhattan and even bombed the train with pics to prove it,” wrote Scharf [Editor's Note: Scharf refrains from capitalizing] in the comments section of a post on Animal NY. He admitted that his feelings were hurt by the graffiti.

“i still never called myself a grafitti writer although i use spray paint and i legally (and illegally) paint all over the city (soon to paint over 100 gates in nyc, legally),” he went on. “i make paintings with spray paint and i think i have a lot to offer the graffiti world.”

But the graffiti world, it turns out, has many factions of thought, and some could care less about Scharf’s work (which he did for free). As many debates on graffiti do, this one was whittled down into an age-old dialectic: What is graffiti? And to that, The Hole NYC offered a diplomatic response.

graffiti does mean no rules and pissing people off

“graffiti does mean no rules and pissing people off,” the art group wrote on its blog [Editor's Note: blog contains no capitalization], “but this was pee [on] the wrong spot. makes them look bad. and lame. pee on frozen river instead!”

Me? I’m surprised that Scharf thought his mural would survive unscathed. This is New York, after all.

Follow Richard S. Chang on Twitter: @r_s_c




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