Local students meet famous pop artist
January 27, 2009
The excitement level was high last Tuesday as third through fifth-grade students at McPolin Elementary School clustered in the library, anxiously awaiting a special guest speaker. As renowned pop artist Steve Kaufman walked through the door, a wave of enthusiasm rippled through the room. "You are awesome!" one boy exclaimed. "I love your jacket!" another cried out.
Kaufman spun around so that the students had a full view of his trench coat, a brightly-colored creation featuring a compilation of iconic images. Taking off his outerwear, he revealed a blazer embellished with magic marker drawings of some of his favorite subjects Marilyn Monroe, Cuban cigars and a scene straight out of Las Vegas.
The students watched in awe as Kaufman, towering over them at 6 feet 7 inches, made his way to the center of the room.
Art teacher Anne-Marie Buckland arranged for Kaufman to speak to students while he was in Park City for an exhibition featuring his work at Stanfield Fine Art, a galley on lower Main Street. Buckland also coordinated the use of students’ pop art to decorate the floor at Stanfield as it was morphed into a hub for artists and press during the Sundance Film Festival. As part of the art curriculum at McPolin, Buckland teaches students about pop art and its famous interpreters, including Kaufman, his mentor Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
During Kaufman’s visit, Buckland got the students involved by testing their knowledge. One student explained what pop art is: "Ordinary objects in pop culture turned into extraordinary objects." Buckland showed slides of some of Kaufman’s work portraits of Muhammad Ali, a 500-foot-long wall mural at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and painted Harley Davidson motorcycles. Kaufman described each piece and shared stories from his childhood. "Art isn’t just on canvas, and it’s not just paint," he said. "As a kid, I used to paint on garbage can lids, tree logs, whatever I could get my hands on."
Growing up in the South Bronx, Kaufman explains that he had an obvious flair for artistic creations. He papier-mâchéd his bedroom door with comic strips and used his mother’s blender to splatter paint over his brother, whom he had wrapped in a bed sheet. Kaufman had his first art show at age eight. By 19, he was painting electric guitars at Studio 54. He became Andy Warhol’s assistant at the Factory and got involved in various AIDS awareness campaigns. In 1993, he moved to Los Angeles and started hiring kids from local correctional facilities as well as ex-gang members and homeless men to help him in his studio. He supported numerous charities and in 2003, he founded his own nonprofit, Give Kids A Break.
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The students at McPolin were captivated by Kaufman’s stories. They asked several questions, curious about what it’s like to be famous (Kaufman insists he’s "a regular guy") and which celebrities he counts among his many friends. They wanted to know how he decided what draw on his jackets and what his favorite painting is.
On Jan. 21, students in grades three through five district-wide were invited to Stanfield Fine Art for a special tour of the Kaufman exhibit. The students received Sundance credentials, walked the red carpet, listened to a performance by the "School of Rock" band, and met cast members from High School Musical.
Each student who attended the event also received a very special piece of swag a free painting from Kaufman. The artist explains that he met Picasso when he was 11 years old. "I thought it’d be really cool if he gave me a painting but he didn’t," he says. For every show that Kaufman does, he gives free art to the kids. The Stanfield Fine Art Gallery will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from Kaufman’s exhibit to the Park City Education Foundation to go toward the arts, and Kaufman has offered to match the donation.