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Renowned faces and classic logos are vitalized in electrifying hues. Crisp color blocks are broken with swaths of liquid intensity. Comic book characters weep and worry, leap and conquer. The viewer is part of a continuum of activity, preceding and succeeding a particular moment captured on canvas. The extent of Kaufman’s ability to interpret popular culture is unquestionably impressive.
Reflecting his early dream of being a comic book creator, familiar characters, such as Superman, play a significant role in Kaufman’s art. While works focusing on the well-known images of Marvel and DC Comics answer our wish for super-human rescue from the demands of daily life, Kaufman’s canvases of newly created participants in a “Mary Worth” world mock society’s superficiality in a world where all is askew.
Beyond comic book characters, however, are the famous and infamous…figures of legendary repute. The tremendous influence of Beethoven or Napoleon so surpasses the bounds of their individual lives that these mere mortals are gifted with a form of super human existence even greater than that of the comic book heroes. “In selecting these figures, I am giving long overdue credit to their importance,” states Kaufman. It is the impact of the individual upon society that catches the imagination of Kaufman, resulting in art of great scope and drama.
To deliver his perspectives, Kaufman has refined the silk-screening process, allowing for greater fluidity and definition in expression. Returning to the silkscreen canvas to add hand-painted touches, Kaufman’s unique works reflect his changing thoughts and perspectives during the creative process. According to Kaufman, “I try to catch the spirit of the individual I’ve depicted. When working on the Beethoven images, I play Beethoven’s music and strive to essentially become Beethoven.” Each work is individual and truly captures the emotions of the creator.
Inventive by nature, Kaufman has always been intrigued with the unusual application and interpretation of the ordinary. It was the combination of inventiveness with tremendous artistic talent that actually led Kaufman to create works which would result in his first exhibition. An architect acquaintance showed Kaufman how to project images on other surfaces. Kaufman collected rounds of wood from trees cut down in the neighborhood, then projected his grandfather’s pictures of the Holocaust on them, using the tree rings to symbolize the tragic span of years. Kaufman’s debut exhibition opened at a Bronx bank and the Holocaust series was subsequently donated to the Jewish Holocaust Museum of art in Brooklyn.
By the age of 12, Kaufman was working at Macy’s painting dog and cat faces on customers’ Pet Rocks. In 1976, then just 16, Kaufman was part of a group show at New York’s prestigious Whitney Museum. Having developed a highly resp0ected reputation for his technical ability, Kaufman was offered an opportunity to work with Andy Warhol cutting the film for canvas screening, a job which afforded him an opportunity to gain a different perspective on the world of art. Using his wages, plus those he earned by working in two galleries, Kaufman made ends meet while attending the School of Visual Arts on a full scholarship.
Leaving the Warhol Studio to commit himself fully to his own creative expression, Kaufman sought innovative opportunities to bring his are to the general public. Even though demand for his work was growing daily, Kaufman wanted to remain in touch with a broad audience. Inspired by the accessibility, Kaufman opened a one night exhibition on four New York subway cars. Using the sides of abandoned buildings, retaining walls, and other highly visible surfaces as his canvas, Kaufman completed 55 “Racial Harmony” murals in New York and made numerous media appearances to promote understanding and tolerance.
recent years have yealded many gallery shows and a burgeoning list of collectors eager to acquire Kaufman’s work. Corporations, such as Citibank, Saatchi and Saatchi as well as personalities, including Mickey Mantle, Wolfgang Puck, and Spike Lee, have acquired works by Steve Kaufman.
Driven to create, Kaufman considers himself a workaholic, often rising before dawn and retiring in the early hours of the day. From dreams, Kaufman frequently derives art; as quickly as a thought flashes through his mind, Kaufman visualizes art and then acts to make the image a reality. Very focused, Kaufman states, “I usually have a clear vision of the art I am creating and don’t do studies or drawings in advance. Any changes I make, I do as I cut the film at my light table.”
Kaufman enjoys knowing his audience becomes integrally involved with his art. “I see one thing when I view my finished work, and you may see something else…that’s okay, the meaning of any work of art should be personal and not the result of my telling you what I want it to mean. I always want to encourage questioning. I do not believe there are absolutes–one should always evaluate.”
Even though Kaufman is committed to his artistic endeavors, he is also tremendously involved in efforts to assist those in need. Independently creating and financially participating in campaigns promoting such themes as AIDS awareness and racial harmony, Kaufman is not just an artist, he is a philanthropist.
States Kaufman, “In the future, I hope I can make a difference in the world, not just artistically, but in a broader sense. I hope that when I speak out regarding a cause that it carries clout. I hope that I’ve helped people and changed points of view because of my position. I’d like to think that even thought I am able to expand my artistic abilities to include film making, monuments, etc. that I still can prompt a smile and the acknowledgement that I’m a nice guy.”