Editor's note: This article has been updated with photography from the car parade.
Kenny Scharf’s “Karbombz!” don't go boom. You won’t hear them, but they’re combustible eye candy in a sea of monotone automobiles. “Karbombz!” feature Scharf’s trademark comic psychedelic faces, some stretched by speed, adorning a side panel or spread over a hood.
This weekend, Hollywood and West Hollywood are preparing for a whole minefield of “Karbombz!” — fifty of them ranging from the beaters to the bespoke, in a parade beginning at San Vicente and Santa Monica Boulevard from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m on Saturday, September 26. It will proceed along Santa Monica to Sycamore and Jeffrey Deitch gallery at 925 N. Orange Dr., where the artist’s latest project, “MOODZ” is on display through October 31.
After the show was postponed last spring, Deitch and Scharf decided the perfect COVID-friendly art exhibition would be a car parade. “It will be great to see them all together, which I never have,” Scharf says, looking forward to the event. “It’s a perfect opportunity at this time. What else can we do in L.A.?
He started “Karbombz!” in 2013, when he was painting a mural in Alabama and someone drove by and said, “Hey, will you paint my car?’ I was like, oh sure,” the artist recalls. He then posted a picture of the car on Instagram along with an offer to paint any car for anyone who requests it. Since then, he counts roughly 260 cars around the world.
“It's something I do for free. It’s a public art project. It takes me twenty minutes,” he shrugs. “I grew up here, and I always got excited when I saw the lowrider cars all painted amazing, when I see surfer air-brushed vans, anything that has decoration and usefulness. It definitely improves the boring madman traffic jams.”
Click right and left to see some scenes from the "Karbombz" car parade:
Click right and left to see some previously bombed cars from Scharf:
Car owners have reached out to him from all walks of life, not just friends and artworld figures, but total strangers. He is partial to white cars, because fewer layers are needed for color, and would rather paint vans because he can do it standing up. “I’ll do any car, it doesn't matter. I prefer, actually, the cheap beaters. There’s less pressure. If someone rolls up in a brand new Bentley, I might feel a little more pressure than a beat up Corolla.”
Of those he’s painted so far, some have been totalled, some marred in fender benders, but in only two cases have owners tried to remove the car doors and sell them as fine art. “It’s not about money,” Scharf explains. “Sometimes I feel like the artworld focuses too much on the art based on how much it costs. So I wanted to introduce something that’s art and it's for everyone and it has no money involved, no value.”
A native Angeleno, Scharf studied art at New York’s School of Visual Arts and made his career in the city’s East Village scene alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, with whom he split an apartment in Times Square in 1981. He was included in the 1985 Whitney Biennial and has since been featured in one-man shows in prominent museums worldwide, including a 2017 solo show at the Hammer.
“MOODZ” at Jeffrey Deitch gallery is a series of 250 faces painted on the walls of the space representing every mood imaginable. That’s right, Scharf has been making emojis since before there was an internet.
“They’re very urgent,” he says of the faces painted last year and during the pandemic. “Yes, there are obvious references to the shape of the coronavirus as a virus monster. But there’s a lot of healing that I felt and wanted to convey. It ranges from the rage of a coronavirus to wanting to send healing love.”
Top Image: West Hollywood hills street with parked cars and construction cranes on each side. | Nicolas McComber /iStock