Steve Kaufman is one of the most influential pop artists in U.S. history. His work appreciated for both its technical merit and its historical importance in pushing the pop art movement forward. Steve Kaufman single handedly transformed pop art from a discipline focused on ordinary object to art with social relevance. Even by artist standards, Steve Kaufman was an extremely precocious child. He held his first art show at his synagogue when he was only 8 years old, and works from that show are now hanging in the Jewish Holocaust Memorial in Brooklyn, New York. At age 12, Kaufman achieved his first commercial success when he was commissioned to paint custom pet rocks for the New York City Macys department store. Kaufman continued to experience success selling his art during his teens before enrolling in the famous New York institution the Parsons School of design.
Steve Kaufman met the American pop art pioneer Andy Warhol at Studio 54 in New York City. The two soon developed a friendship and working relationship where Kaufman served as Warhol’s assistant at his famous studio called “The factory.” Kaufman was heavily influenced by Warhol’s style. He and Warhol used many of the same mediums including, sculpture, photography, stained glass, mixed media and filmmaking, but his paintings and prints are by far the most famous. He is also famous for painting unusual objects, including Mercedes Benz and a Formula One Race Car. He is famous for painting celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Muhammed Ali, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy. He also produced a very successful screen print series of Cohiba cigars that remain some of Kaufman’s bestselling work today.
Early American pop art focused on making ordinary objects and images into works of art. Critics of pop art have criticized the school of art for being cold and lacking human emotion. While pop art was often injected with a sense of humor and an invitation for the audience to reflect on their value set, there was not much inherent personality in the paintings. Steve Kaufman’s art was a pioneer in changing the face or pop art to a more human one with added social relevance.
Kaufman was a major advocate for AIDs awareness and one of the recognizable pieces of Kaufman art is his 5 foot by 5 foot canvas of Trojan condoms. He also used his art to promote racial equality and advocate for an end to homelessness.