Steve Kaufman, 43, is an award-winning pop artist.
"My father, was a lamp salesman. He died when I was four. My mother never talked about it, but we got the idea that he committed suicide. I have no memories of him, which is the best way because he didn't like kids. In the mornings, we had to wait until he had gone to work before we got up because he didn't want us in his way. In the evenings, we ate our dinner before he showed up so that he didn't have to talk to us.
My mother's love was a tough love -- It had to be. We lived in the South Bronx, New York, and somehow she managed to raise my sister, my brother and me without going insane. I was the middle child, but you would think that I was the eldest. From the age of 9, I was working. I washed dishes and peeled shrimps at a Chinese restaurant and brought that money home. When you have no dad, you have to go do it alone, and that makes you strong.
When I was 15, I was arrested for doing graffiti. The judge said I had to clean five subway cars and I told him to f*** himself. Then he said I would have to clean 25 subway cars, so I went to his house and spray-painted his walls, after that, he (the judge) caught me, I had to clean 159 cars. It took all summer. Of course, I didn't tell my Mom. I wouldn't call it lying, just not informing.
Whatever was going on, my art was always there for me. I would smother my brother Howard in milkshake on oil paint, then wrap him the bed sheets and make imprints. In a Jackson Pollock-style. I won a scholarship for summer program to NYC Parson Art of Design and, when I was 17, I met Andy Warhol at Studio 54. I didn't know who he was. The only thing I was interested in was how much he was paying. He hired me as his assistant for $6 an hour. As an artist, naturally, I wanted to draw women. I would go up to them on buses and trains, and just start sketching. That is how I got my first girlfriends -- although I would not call them that, I'd just say girls. There was never a problem with supply and demand. For me it was a matter of which I wanted to take up. Older woman seemed to like me -- some that I slept with were twice my age. My late teens were wild, but that was before AIDS. When I was 21, my then girlfriend, Susan turned out to be HIV positive and she died.
I became a AIDS demonstrator. People thought it was because I was gay. The reality is that everything in my life happens for a reason.
I met my wife Lisa in a supermarket when I was 25. I was behind her at the checkout when she asked me where I was taking my stuff and told me to bring it back to her place. A year later, she was killed drink-driving. I went a little crazy after that. I fell from a two-story building and rode my motorcycle into a wall. Whatever is happening in my life it’s exposed through my art and that was a dark phase. It was same when Martha died. We were together almost a year, but she went off with a guy who was crack addict, and 30 days later she was dead.
Fifteen years ago I got in a fight in a bar, ended up in jail, and met the gang kids of Los Angeles. When I came out, I got them to work for me. I may not have been blessed with children of my own, but in the past 15 years 995 of these kids have been through my studio. Some don't have a clue who I am, but they all know that I am on their side."