Groovey Planet Scharf

Former Miamian Kenny Scharf turns his space-age Pop Art into a cartoon

Anyone familiar with Kenny Scharf's work won't be surprised to learn that the Pop Surrealist, painter of Jetsons and Flintstones characters, psychedelic space adventures and cool mutant creatures, has created an animated cartoon. Scharf's half-hour The Groovenians premieres November 10 on the Cartoon Network and will be previewed at a party at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in North Miami this weekend. For the artist, who still fondly recalls the day in 1965 when his family got a color TV, the debut of his own cartoon was a long-time fantasy, and he describes the experience as typically Scharfian fun.

"It's pretty fantastic!" Scharf shouts out, on the phone from his studio in Los Angeles, where he headed in 1999 after six years in Miami, cartoon proposal in hand. "When I make a painting there's always a story in it, but it's just a little thing in my head. This is really being God in a bigger way -- developing a full story and making it come alive. I'm so jazzed and excited."

The Groovenians has a B-52's soundtrack and a free-spirited message. The swirling landscapes, Day-Glo colors, and space-age accents are reminiscent of the artist's paintings, and the cartoon's curvy one-eyed characters were previously seen here as Scharf-designed mannequins that for a time decorated the windows of Burdines in Miami Beach.

The cartoon was created with CGI animation, familiar to audiences from recent Disney/Pixar studio productions like Monsters, Inc. The 3-D style allows for realistic movement and lends a lifelike personality to the characters as they sashay and dance onscreen.

"I'm not a flat person," Scharf reasons. "3-D was always in my mind when I dreamed of making cartoons because that's what I do -- my paintings are three-dimensional." Scharf worked with director/co-writer Jordan Reichek, whose past credits include Ren & Stimpy and Invader Zim, and a team of CGI animators. Some characters were based on the existing mannequins, while the animators created the others from Scharf's drawings, with the artist in close (even obsessive, he says) consultation to achieve the exact details as he envisioned them. "It's like a puppet show in the computer," Scharf says of the process. "You're sculpting on the computer, creating these puppets, and then you can tell them what to do."

The Groovenians gave Scharf the opportunity to collaborate with some of his friends. The cartoon features the voices of Dennis Hopper, Drena De Niro, Paul (PeeWee) Reubens, Ann Magnuson, Debi Mazar, and Vincent Gallo, with a cameo by RuPaul as an intergalactic stewardess. In addition to the B-52's theme song, Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame wrote music for the show.

The half-hour pilot tells the story of Jet and Glindy, two young artists from Planet Jeepers in search of a place to do their art freely, away from the repressive eye of their small-minded suburban neighbors. They flee to Groovenia, where they find cool roommates and a 24-hour party, but discover they still have to contend with threats from the big green monster (money).

"It's my classic tale from leaving the San Fernando Valley in search of artistic bohemia in Manhattan," says Scharf, who was raised in the Valley and attended Beverly Hills High. He arrived in Manhattan in the late Seventies after reading about Andy Warhol and his Factory, and attended the School of Visual Arts, where he began making his "space-age" paintings. At one of his early exhibitions at Club 57 in the East Village, called "Celebration of the Space Age," he served space-food sticks and Tang. Scharf quickly became a key figure of the burgeoning downtown art and performance scene, and after the inclusion of one of his black-light closet installations in the 1985 Whitney Biennial, he was celebrated as an Eighties art star along with friends Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

In 1992 Scharf moved with his family to Miami Beach, where he nurtured a fantastic tropical jungle in his yard that stood out as an oasis among his La Gorce Island neighbors' manicured grass. While a Miami resident, he showed at the Miami Art Museum, MoCA, and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. When the local venues were exhausted, he began sketching out ideas for a cartoon, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue that dream. "It was a choice between just settling into a comfortable lifestyle or doing something you really need to do," he says.

Scharf's recent paintings include a series of portraits, two of which will be exhibited in a group show at the FIU Art Museum in January. It remains to be seen if Cartoon Network will pick up The Grooveniansas a series, but Scharf definitely plans to continue doing cartoons. "Now that I got my toe wet," he says, "I just want to jump in and swim."

The Museum of Contemporary Art screens The Grooveniansat a party organized by the MoCA Shakers on Saturday, November 2, at 8:00 p.m. Admission is $35 in advance and $40 at the door. For more information call 305-893-6211, ext. 36.

 
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