While many kids his age played stickball and pursued other typical youthful passions, 8-year-old Steve Kaufman was painting. Eventually, Kaufman's childhood fancy turned into a lifelong obsession. At 19, the native New Yorker got the break of a lifetime, although he didn't realize it at the time. He landed a job as a studio assistant for famed "pop" artist Andy Warhol. Despite Kaufman's interest in art, however, the teenager had never heard of Warhol.
"I didn't know who he was for six months," Kaufman recalled recently. "All I knew was he wasn't paying me. He'd leave every Friday and head for the Hamptons. After a while I'd say, "Hey where's my money?" If the job with Warhol didn't pay much in the way of a steady salary, his year-and-a-half experience with the late artist paid dividends in other ways.
Following in Warhol's footsteps, Kaufman has produced an extensive collection of celebrity portraits of his own that feature such luminaries as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Frank Sinatra, John Travolta, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana, among others.
Kaufman, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, was the first American artist to be asked to paint a Van Gogh portrait for the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. He's received a "Picasso Ring" from The Picasso Academy of Fine Arts, an award given annually to the artist that best exhibits the spirit of the legendary painter. And, he's produced works for AIDS Awareness, Woodstock, Campbell Soup's 100-th anniversary and murals promoting racial harmony.
So what's this guy's claim to fame with the Love Ride? Kaufman, 40, as he has done for several years, is donating one of his silk-screen oil works for an auction during the Love Ride. The money will be donated to charity. His handouts for which he is famous-for, folks who know Kaufman say he's literally taken one of his colorful leather coats off his back given it away-are frequent occurrences. But Kaufman's contributions aren't limited to charity. Besides supporting more than 170 charities, Kaufman hires ex-gang members and troubled youths to work at his studio. Since 1995, he's hired more than 600.
"One day I went to look at this building to rent and this guy wouldn't rent it because there were gang members holed up in there," Kaufman said. He said "You don't understand, this is where they hang out.' I didn't care. The price was right, so I ended up buying the place. So when I went in there to clean up, there is like 18 or 20 kids there. We started giving them brooms.
Oh, we got some resistance. But I’m from New York, so……..After they finished, we paid them. They kept coming back." That was in 1993. Since then, Kaufman has made of those young men the focal point of his operation.