Steve Kaufman: King Of Pop Art

12:15 PM, Apr 27, 2008   |    comments
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Kaufman knew as a kid that he was either going to be a lawyer or an artist. With a love of Picasso and a strong family influence, the art side won out, and today his big bold oil silkscreens on canvas with larger-than-life Pop culture images are giving a colorful rebirth to a whole new generation.

Born in 1960 in the Bronx, NY, Kaufman, a middle child, was surrounded by an extended family, many of whom were involved in the art world as painters and sculptors. His father passed away when he was four years old, and he was taught sculpting by his uncles. His mother painted high fashion oils on canvas. All of this led to an appreciation of art and by age eight, he had his first show.

"My family was a big influence on me," he says. "They taught me that to be an artist is to be always changing. So I tried all different forms of art and today I have 15 different styles that I work in.'

"Art should always be about changing. A lot of artists will work in one medium their whole career, but I didn't want to every get bored. I was taught that canvas is not the only thing to paint on."

By the time Kaufman was 16, he was already going to Studio 54 and hanging around with people involved in the New York City art community in the 70's.

In 1975, he took part in a group show of graffiti art held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. He enrolled in Manhattan's School of Visual Arts and met contemporary artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquait. He worked as Andy Warhol's assistant in 1978 cutting film for canvas screening and learned the printing process firsthand. I was during this time that Kaufman participated in various group shows with artists like Haring at clubs around the city.

"In the '70s and '80s, the nightclubs were the galleries for Pop artists.  For one show we adopted some dogs from a local shelter and dyed their hair and gave them mohawks as part of the exhibit. There was a lot of experimenting with what art meant. when I began doing my own silkscreening, I would mix Coca Cola in with the paint because of a lack of money and it created a tie-dye effect."
"My work is about introducing a genre of art and pop culture to a whole new generation of collectors" Kaufman spent some time working for both Marvel Comics and DC Comics, as well as doing graphics for Saturday Night Live. Between the 1980s and today, Kaufman's life reads like a soap opera with almost unbelievable storylines such as being shot at, stabbed suffering from a stroke, a near fatal motorcycle accident, several relationships ending badly, and his wife passing away.

"I've been to hell and back and each experience has given me a clearer soul to know what it is that I want to do." And what he choses to give back, not just to his community, but to the world with donations to more than 180 charities including AIDS awareness, racial unity, and homeless causes."

In 1986, he formed SAK Studio and enlisted two friends Bob Womack and Roger Pate as associate partners. Kaufman's community-based work has never waned, especially once he moved his art business from New York to a 26,000-square-foot studio with 18-foot ceilings located in South Central Los Angeles. Previously used as a gang hangout, the new studio allows Kaufman to create his large pieces of art, some reaching 400 by 15 feet.

He began to work with the Los Angeles prison system, hiring ex-gang members to work in his studio. To this day, he was given employment to over 975 and some have gone on to become artist themselves. "A lot of the time it's as simple as walking up to a group of kids and offering them work. Not many do that. to many of my employees I'm like a dad or big brother." Kaufman started the Give Kids A Break organization, formed to help rebuild communities in South Central through programs that include planting orange trees and providing computers.

"I've donated $4 million worth of art to various charities through the years. I sometimes catch some flack from the galleries for giving pieces of art away, but even if it is just one painting that is donated and it raises money for AIDS research or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) how can anyone put a price on that?"

While in Denver, Kaufman will continue his mission of philanthropy by donating a mask to The Denver Hospice Mask Project and a painting to another local charity helping children. He will also promote his mission of art exposure for youth through a special invitation to children at several Denver schools.

You can view some of his work, and meet Kaufman at opening receptions on Friday, April 25th from 5-8pm & Saturday, April 26th from 1-3pm and 5-8pm at Clayton Lane Fine Arts 120 Clayton Lane Denver, CO 80206. RSVP appreciated: 720.214.5263.

You can also visit:

The exhibition will continue through May 7th.

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