By Adam Rathe
Years ago when he was living on East 9th Street, Kenny Scharf was rarely invited to toss graffiti up onto the gate of a shop; he would just out and paint. These days, however, the artist, who recently put a mural up at the corner of Bowery and East Houston Street and will be part of a street art exhibit next year at The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, gets a lot more respect.
As part of a project called Gatescapes, Scharf has been asked to spray-paint more than 100 of the roll-down grates that cover the doors of closed shops—and none might be as close to the artist’s heart as the gate of Dorian Grey Gallery, just across East 9th from a building Scharf once called home.
“I lived on that street, and I looked across at my old building. And there are a lot of memories there,” Scharf says. “[The block] still has pretty good flavor. They don’t have guys selling weed in the street anymore—it was the weed street back then—so that kind of flavor is gone, but everything’s changing all the time.”
Christopher Pusey, who runs the gallery, thinks that Scharf’s work—which is gracing the gates of cafes, drycleaners and boutiques all over town—is well-suited to his gallery, which is attempting to keep alive in the East Village exactly the flavor Scharf mentioned.
“Part of it was him coming back and giving something back to his street,” he explains. “A gallery like ours has opened up down here, pushing contemporary art and working with emerging and street artists together.” And it probably didn’t hurt that Scharf had a piece in the gallery’s recent show, Sounds From a Distance.
And while there will be plenty of gates eventually, Dorian Grey lucked out by being an early stop for Scharf—and perhaps the only art gallery included in the project. “For this project, there are like more than 100 gates all over Manhattan,” the artist explains. “I started doing them two or three weeks ago, but now it’s getting so dark and cold that it’s getting difficult with store owners because I can’t paint on the gates unless the store is closed. I want to wait until spring to do the rest.”
So, while Scharf is running around town creating limited edition works, he says that they’re for the enjoyment of the public and he doesn’t expect anyone to profit off of his spray painting.
“I don’t think they’ll take the gates,” he says. “I’m not signing them, and I don’t think they’ll get sold. They’ll get painted over eventually, but that’s the way it goes. It’s the law of the street.”