By PAUL LASTER, AUG, 2016
A nonprofit organization whose mission is to help children heal through the extraordinary power of visual art, RxArt commissioned Kenny Scharf in 2013 to transform a sterile stairwell used by patients at the Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatric Units in Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York into an inspiring environment filled with beauty, humor and comfort. Rising to the challenge, Scharf created an enchanting mural inhabited by the kind of whimsical characters that animate his colorful paintings, sculptures and installations. After viewing and documenting the winding stairway enlivened with images of happy plants, birds, trees, bugs, clouds and rainbows, Whitehot spoke to the artist in his Los Angeles studio about his heartwarming project.
Whitehot Magazine: When did you first hear about RxArt?
Kenny Scharf: I met Diane Brown, RxArt’s founder and director, when I was working on the Kiehl's campaign. A lot of the money being donated from the sale of my product was for RxArt, which Keihl's chose as the beneficiary.
WM: How did you become involved?
KS: Diane asked me, and it made sense for us to collaborate on something. It's such a worthy cause, and Kiehl’s sponsored the project so it continued the dialogue.
WM: Have you done other projects for hospitals?
KS: Yes, I've done murals for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s children's wing here in Los Angeles and the waiting room of Brooklyn Children's Hospital.
WM: Did you do preliminary drawings for the mural or did you create the work on the spot?
KS: No, I didn't make drawings for it. I made it up on the spot.
WM: Did you select the site, a stairwell between two floors of the Pediatric and Adolescent Psychiatric Units of Kings County Hospital, or was it chosen by the administration?
KS: I didn't really have much say in the matter. It was chosen by the hospital and I happily obliged.
WM: Who uses the stairwell? Who sees your mural?
KS: The kids see the mural every day as they go up and down the stairwell.
WM: What was the biggest challenge that you faced in painting in such a tight space?
KS: Getting the ladder up high in the stairwell to paint was quite difficult.
WM: How did you decide on the mural's motives?
KS: For some reason I thought the children were really young, so I made something full of candy-colored fun. When I later met the kids I realized that they might be too old for the imagery, but they seem to like it a lot.
WM: Is there a storyline to the piece?
KS: There is, but could you first tell me what you think the story is? I often like to hear that before I make up a story.
WM: I see it as a garden of delight, where all things in the world are in harmony.
KS: I love that! Yes, where all things are possible! I usually just make up a storyline afterwards, so that's why I asked you because I often like other people's insights to tell me what the story is.
WM: How do you hope the children will react to what you've made for them?
KS: I hope to brighten their day. I hope to inspire. And I hope it helps them to know that people care about them. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author