Steve Kaufman
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Steve Kaufman

by Charles Rubens

We interviewed internationally renowned pop artist Steve Kaufman who creates striking prints, paintings and sculptures based on famous faces and images we are all familiar with from everyday life. Trained in the studio of Andy Warhol, many of Kaufman's printed images carry on Warhol's legacy of capturing icons, however, Kaufman works with over 170 charities worldwide and employs ex gang members from the streets of LA to work in his studio. His new show is at the Deluxe Gallery, in London November 19th-26th .


Andy Warhol obviously had a profound influence on your work. What was he like? What was it working in his studio? " I did not even know who he was, I was 18 or 19 years old and I thought we were making posters, there was a whole art revolution going on at the time where they used a lot of silk screening. Today I have kids working for me from the LA correctional center and they don't know who I am for about six months. I would see Andy Warhol at Studio 54, I had a show at Studio 54 and that's how I ended up working for him."


"In terms of his influence on my work, people who are familiar with my work will know that I have 14 different styles. We both made films, but though Andy was a filmmaker mine are more like feature films. Also I have a comic book series, I paint like Picasso or Van Gogh, sometimes I paint in the style of photo realism, but I always work in oils. Andy painted icons but unfortunately he's not here and it's been left to me to capture the icons of today. Muhammad Ali autographed 700 pieces and Sinatra authorized a series of works featuring him. I always get my work authorized. Andy was too shy to go and do this".


Whereas Warhol used images of celebrity to comment on the media, you (Steve) have chosen instead to often celebrate positive figures with superhuman skills, people who have made a real difference in society.


You obviously have concerns about the state of the world and have benefited causes such as AIDS, gang violence, meals on wheels, etc. – do you never feel tempted to reflect such concerns in your work? "I support 170 charities a year and have done a series of paintings about the Holocaust and Malcolm X – showing how he lived and how he died. I also did a series on Abraham Lincoln who died in Civil War time. America could have ended up like Europe in many countries, yet he kept all the states together. I showed the tragedies and the triumphs of his life to show people that even when things go wrong or you have a bad day you can still overcome these setbacks in your life."


"I'm about to do a series of self portraits like Andy Warhol did, I'm going to show how my fiancé and wife died, how I had a heart attack and stroke, how I was shot and run over, my triumphs over personal tragedies, that I'm an artist and I’m also a human being."


How important is it to you that you are enabling art to have a positive role in society? "I feel enough people create art for shock value. I feel that what we should focus on is the positive in life, for example, if you look at the news see how many bad pieces of news there are compared to one good thing. If we can focus more on the positive then things will be better, I believe that positive breeds positive and negative breeds negative."


What can we expect to see at your new show? "There are some paintings of Madonna and other American icons, I want to choose a charity in London I can help out while I'm there. I've just helped an elementary school in London; they have a charity auction that they do every year. When they wrote to me I've just had a stroke and was unable to respond, I shipped out two Sinatras and an Einstein (valued at $19,000) and told them to sell them for whatever money they got, with all the proceeds to go to charity. I help charities as far away as Japan. There is no language barrier for us to help someone."