Steve Kaufman Biography
1963 –“My dad died, maybe that is why I’m a dad, or a big brother to so many kids today…”
1968 – Sponsored by a Jewish temple in the Bronx, Steve created Holocaust paintings, later donated the paintings to the Holocaust Museum in Brooklyn.
1972 – Steve Kaufman worked for Macy’s on 34th street in Manhattan, where he painted dog and cat faces on pet rocks.
1975 – Participated in group graffiti show at the Whitney Museum.
1978-81 – Enrolled in the School of Visual Arts. Met Andy Warhol, and became his assistant at the Factory. Designed theme parties at Studio 54, Mud Club, Underground, and Magique. Sold his art to Calvin Klein and Steve Rubell. Met artist Keith Haring at School of Visual Arts (SVA) show. Participated in a group show at Club 57 with Haring.
1982 – : Created graphics for NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Graduates from School of Visual Arts (SVA) with a BFA. Held art shows at the Air Gallery in London, White Freud, and Fiorucci store window in NYC.
1983-1985 – Arrested with AIDS demonstrators for chain-locking New York City mayor Ed Koch in his office. Exhibition: Sex, Rock & Roll at Off Centre Gallery and Common Wealth Gallery in London.
1986-88 – Formed SAK Studio. Began citywide campaign for AIDS awareness with art shows that featured paintings of Trojan condom wrappers measuring 5 feet by 5 feet. Condom art exhibit shown at Main Fine Art, Edinburgh College of Art, Zanzibar Club and the Smith Gallery.
1989-1990 – Opened Art Studio. Hired New York City homeless. Painted portraits of three homeless people for Transportation Display, Inc. These portraits are shown in 46 cities on bus billboards, and helped to raise $4.72 million to benefit the homeless. Completed unfinished portraits for Andy Warhol clients. Trojan Condoms/Carter Wallace sponsors 5000 AIDS awareness buttons to be given away in Greenwich Village and at an art auction for AMFAR. Painted first Racial Harmony Mural in Harlem to bring awareness to inner city problems. Exhibition at White Gallery, where all art was covered in black cloth in memorial of those who died of AIDS. This show developed the concept for the “Day Without Art” tribute. Exhibition at Loft Gallery in Tokyo, Japan.
1991-92 –Completed 55 Racial Harmony Murals in the New York City area with Malcolm X images. Appeared on Fox TV, MTV and radio stations to speak out on racial harmony. Accepted award as Underground Artist of the Year. Painted Mickey Mantle portrait for Mantle’s restaurant, painted Joe Frazier portrait to raise money for Police Athletic League. Created AIDS Memorial in New York City. Draped red fabric over the letter “D” of the Hollywood Sign in remembrance of everyone who has died of AIDS. Art collected by Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Murphy and Larry Mullen of U2.
1993-94 –Art Studio moves to Los Angeles, California. Started a new style called “Comic Book Pop Art.” Used original paintings of super heroes — Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, to name a few — as the icons. Hired more than 100 of Los Angeles’ ex-gang kids from prison to assist him in the studio.
1995 –Worked with Martin Lawrence Gallery. Hand painted new editions, giving new meaning to hand-embellishment. Created limited editions of Beethoven, which sold out, and Marilyn Monroe, which broke all gallery sales records for a new artist. Created portraits of Muhammad Ali and John Travolta, who autographed their editions. First artist to form a bridge between Marvel Comics (Spider-Man) and DC Comics (Superman). Worked with Stan Lee, who autographed the edition.
Starts following programs:
- – Worked with Los Angeles’ “South Central” parole officers.
- – Hired more than 200 kids from prison to work in the studio.
- – Received award from Los Angeles mayor.
- – Increased charity work to include 100 different charities.
1996 – Contacted the Sinatra Family about painting Frank Sinatra’s portrait. Campbell’s Soup asked Steve to paint a limited edition to mark Campbell’s Soup’s 100th Year Anniversary. Painted Muhammad Ali’s face on 500 boxing gloves, which proved that art doesn’t have to be on canvas. By now, 325 kids have worked for the Art Studio and 85% have gone on to a better way of life. Painted two Harley-Davidson motorcycles: one a Campbell’s Soup theme, and the other was a Cohiba Cigar theme. Created Ali portrait for the 1996 Olympics. Ali signed the edition for the first time with both his Muslim name, Muhammad Ali, and his birth name, Cassius Clay.
1997-98 –Tina Sinatra presented portrait of Frank Sinatra on Larry King’s CNN show. Steve Kaufman held art shows in Japan and Amsterdam. Participated in a boxing exhibition versus Don Diego, a European boxing champion. After some minor controversy, Kaufman is awarded a win. Painted a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. The bike is driven around Dodger Stadium before each game and televised to four million households. By now, Steve Kaufman has hired 546 ex-gang kids and homeless. Supported more than 176 charities.
1999-2000 – Steve Kaufman had a cardiac episode and a motorcycle accident.
“I’m truly blessed to be doing what I’ve always wanted – CREATE. I have found a freedom that is hard to put into words. I always wondered about my projects – which artists are working on what, and which directions should I take? I don’t even think of those things now. I passionately go into my studio and ask myself, what would I like to create today?”
Released Sinatra’s Rat Pack and Mug shot, Al Pacino as The Godfather and Scarface, Barbie, and a new Marilyn Monroe edition. He released Van Gogh and Picasso in a new style: a 100% hand-painted edition that gave new meaning to the hand-embellishment process. Released New York City’s radio shock-jock icon Howard Stern, Disney’s Mickey Mouse, and other surprises at 2001 New York City Art Expo. Expanded charity work once again by donating the proceeds of several upcoming projects.
2001 – 2002 – At this point, Kaufman supported 170 charities per year. His Art Studio to date had hired 759 LA ex-gang kids and LA homeless men. Kaufman created two new art styles called “Portrait Collage” and Museum Art,” his 14th and 15th distinct styles added to his body of work. The only other artist to have this many different styles is Picasso.
While most artists keep the same style and choice of images, year after year, Kaufman was always changing and inventing. His new “Portrait Collage” style was a collage of images to support his main image, which gave the portrait more impact. You can see this new style in his editions of Rat Pack, Hollywood Marilyn, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Jackie Kennedy. They were a new departure from his standard portraits.
His new “Museum Art” paintings “September 11th Memorial”, a tribute to the heroes of the World Trade Center attack, and “Caesars 35 Year History”, a commemorative for Caesars’ history, were hung in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. “Caesars 35 Year History” is a 3D, 500-foot x 25-foot, painted canvas on the wall. He also created a 10-foot Fender guitar for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. He worked on the “World War II Memorial” and filmed a TV pilot: “You Call That Art?” Art Shows at a Las Vegas gallery which had shown LeRoy Neiman art for decades. Group art show with Pop artist Rizzi in NYC Gallery. Donated the “Princess Diana” portrait to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. Kaufman proposed a new art studio inside the Las Vegas correction center. Just like the movie “Jackson Pollock,” a Hollywood writer made a screenplay about Kaufman’s life. Kaufman began placing his icon paintings in public viewing places around the country, so that the public would enjoy his art as much as private collectors. As part of this program, Kaufman placed a Muhammad Ali portrait in Brooklyn’s famous Gleason’s Boxing Gym which has trained over 200 world champions; he placed a Frank Sinatra portrait at Hofstra University, New York, where Kaufman and artist LeRoy Neiman were both guest speakers. He placed a Marilyn Monroe at the Foundation Fighting Blindness, gifted a painting to David Letterman to inspire heart recovery, and gifted Howard Stern with a portrait live on the Howard Stern Show. He unveiled the Holocaust painting, “Remember,” at New York Art Expo in 2001. This piece was showcased on NBC’s Dateline.
2002-2003 – Art events with Muhammad Ali, the cast of HBO’s The Sopranos, two events with Oscar De La Hoya, Paris Casino in Las Vegas. Met with Las Vegas’s Mayor Goodman about building the Las Vegas sign, locations; met with the engineering company, and with police about using prisoners for work on the sign. Created Celine Dion portrait edition to help fund the sign project. Held 22 weekly Art shows with Paris Casino. NYC’s Studio 54 held a one man show of Kaufman art. Held art show at Paramount Studio in LA. Steve Kaufman started working with sculpture again. Sold out a show in NYC. Created paintings using old masters paintings Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh, with theirs and Steve’s art styles. Participated in Love Ride event with Jay Leno, Peter Fonda, other riders, which raised $1 million for charity. Steve supported this cause for at least 10 years by donating art, plus 190 charities a year. By now, 1,873 kids and homeless had worked for Art Studio. Las Vegas’ Steve Winn became a collector of Kaufman paintings, with one Martin Luther King and one Rat Pack.
April 2003 – “I had a stroke. My cholesterol was 576. I’ve been told I flat line died. That night, I had 6 jelly donuts. During my sleep, I saw quick flashes of my life like I was on VCR tape recorder rewinding my life story very fast. Then it stopped. Everything when black. I heard a voice, ‘You did good kid, but now go back and do better.’ When I awoke, I tried to get out of bed. I fell to the floor. I was paralyzed on one side of my body. In the next 3 months, I re-taught myself to walk, wipe my ass; I had the best art show of my life 4 weeks after my stroke, as it was a sold out show of $400,000 in one night. But everyone was buying the art because they thought I was dying. A good friend of mine died soon after. His body just gave up on him. My girlfriend left me. She said she didn’t want to be with me when I die in my bed. I looked at my father’s photo one night. He died at the age of 36 years old. I said ‘not me.’ I lost 75 lbs. in 3 months. I was walking 5 mile walks every day. I started my nonprofit charity, Give Kids A Break.
From that day on, I live life like I was dying. I climb mountains. I went sky diving. I walked halfway across the USA, then I came back home. I looked into my soul. I like me. I was good to people. I can walk to South Central to East LA to Beverly Hills CA to High rollers card games in Las Vegas. Everyone likes me. I feel I’ve helped and touched many people. I step 4 steps away from my art, and then I drove into my art like I never did before. I created the 6-color silkscreen method. I started welding new metal Campbell’s soup art tables. I was at a cigar shop looking at cigar boxes. I took 500 cigar boxes home that day to paint Fidel Castro portraits on to the Cigar boxes as if they were paintings. I took a wall of boxing gloves and painted boxing matches onto the wall of gloves. I had Fidel Castro from Cuba sign my Cohiba motorcycle gas tank. I created 4 more motorcycles: LA Lakers, LA Dodgers, Campbell’s soup, Las Vegas with a slot machine as part of the back sissy bar. I started painting originals, not just on canvas, but 3D items (one-of-a-kind museum paintings).”
2004 –“I got sick again. I had 2 more minor strokes, and cancer. I had trouble breathing. The doctor said, ‘you have asthma and you need to stop working with paint.’ I said, ‘Sorry, doctor. I can’t do that. I’m on this planet to paint.’ I took the year off. I was very ill, but I still created art as I recovered.”
2005 – 1,875 kids have worked at Art studio, their first job. Pope John Paul II accepted Kaufman’s paintings of the Pope into his private apt and office in Rome. Kaufman paintings of Lance Armstrong were shown in art galleries during the Tour de France. Kaufman created paintings to help raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims. Created paintings of SLR McLaren for the 100th anniversary of Mercedes Benz, I started painting on mini motorcycles, sculptures, cars, wooden screen doors, I just kept painting on anything other than canvas just wanted to create art.
2006 –: July art show in Aspen, and in December, four shows Val and B Creek. Kaufman was sick again. “I was 40 lbs. heavy, and my cholesterol was 416.”
2007 – Steve painted wall of fame at MGM and the Hoya vs. Mayweather fight; Wine, Las Vegas sign, CSI David Caruso came to Steve’s art studio and signed portraits of himself.
September-October 2007 –Las Vegas show at a gallery that has shown Picasso, Norman Rockwell, Dali, and LeRoy Neiman works. “When I’m in Europe, I can feel my future as a Museum artist. I know my future is secure, my mark in art history.”
November 2007 –Five Europe art gallery shows, London, Dublin Ireland, Basel and Zurich Switzerland, Germany. Created art of these countries’ icons, Roma Shyler, Brittani Ireland, Guinness beer.
December 2007 –1975 kids have worked at LA Art Studio. Talks to open an Art Studio on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Nevada, and an Art Studio in Zona Rio. 400 soccer balls were given to kids outside Kaufman art studio, which is next door to Dayton Heights Elementary School. The balls were given to the kids KG-5th grade as they went home. One night show in Canada sold out, 4 shows in Val and B Creek in Col $350,000. 200 paintings were sent as holiday gifts to Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Matthew Perry, Rolling Stones, Donald Sutherland, Oliver Stone, Patrick Swayze, Billy Bob Thornton, Steven Tyler, Quentin Tarantino, Donald Trump, Gary Sinise, Rod Stewart, M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Star, Paul Simon, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller, Jimmy Smits, Ted Danson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Mickey Rourke, Carlos Santana, Gavin Rossdale, Tim Roth, Martin Scorsese, Ryan Seacrest, Jerry Seinfeld, Gary Shandling, Ridley Scott, Steven Segal, Tom Selleck, Colin Quinn, Keanu Reeves, Keith Richards, Anthony (Tony) Robbins, Lou Reed, John C Reilly, Kid Rock, Sam Raimi, Andy Roddick, Eddie Murphy, Joe Pantoliano, Penn & Teller, Joaquin Phoenix, David Hyde Pierce, Tom Petty, Quincy Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Jude Law, Val Kilmer, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, Ethan Hawke, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dustin Hoffman, Chris Isaak, Hugh Jackman, Colin Farrell, Andy Garcia, Brendan Fraser, Tom Hanks, Josh Hartnett, Morgan Freeman, James Gandolfini, Kelsey Grammer, Tony Hawke, Michael Douglas, David Duchovny, Robert Duvall, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillion, Clint Eastwood, Michael Eisner, Vin Diesel, Oscar De La Hoya, Tom Arnold, Vince Vaughn, Conan O’Brian, Tiger Woods, Oliver Stone, Bono, Shaquille O’Neal, Mick Jagger, Luke Wilson, and dozens of top CEOs including Warren E. Buffet, William Clay Ford Jr. of Ford Motor Company.
2008 –NYC Art Expo, Las Vegas Visitor bureau set up a display of Kaufman art seen by 2 million people a year. Caesar’s Palace casino asked Steve to paint portraits of Cher, Bette Midler and Elton John. Held a sold out Japan show, Las Vegas July 4 show, where Steve unveiled his stained glass art. Steve created a new painting art style with his Coca Cola and the iPod Apple campaign.
November 2008 –Toured Europe with 16 art shows.
December 2008 –Gifted paintings of Steve Wynn, Cher, Bette Midler, Elton John, Penn and Teller, Carrot Top, Blueman, Rita Rudner, Wayne Brady, XAO Yang, Jamie Gold, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Vegas fame, Mayor Oscar B. Goodman of Las Vegas, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, 37 World leaders, Frank Langella, Sean Penn, Mickey Rourke, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, and Anne Hathaway.
January 2009 –:Art exhibit for 6 days at a gallery at Sundance. One hundred kids painted the floor of the art gallery with a pop art theme; 400 kids received 8×8 paintings as free gifts, which was all filmed for an independent film for Sundance 2010.
February 2009: –Art exhibit for an art gallery in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, Dylan’s candy painting edition, the Oscars awards as Steve created paintings of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire movies. Suffers 2nd Major Stroke.
“I was seeing spots that day. I woke up in Las Vegas and, being paralyzed, I couldn’t get into a wheel chair.”
March 2009 –“As John Lennon said, ‘I’m just watching the wheels turn.’”
2009 –Four Coca Cola paintings and a Coca Cola Sculpture by Steve Kaufman are exhibited in the World of Coca Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.
February 11, 2010 –At 11:30PM, called my best friend David Davis in Los Angeles from vail Colorado, told him that we should have had Bill Clinton sign all of his paintings because he was in the hospital having stent surgery. David pressured me to go downstairs and buy oxygen because of the altitude in Colorado. I told him “that I would be fine that oxygen was free and that I shouldn’t have to pay for it.” I promised to call him right after my morning breakfast meeting, and that I would turn my phone off and go right to sleep. This would be the first and only promise that Steve Kaufman ever broke to me in our 17 year relationship. I feel honored to have known Steve and special in that I was the last person he ever spoke with.
February 12, 2010 –:Before 8:00AM: Steve Kaufman suffered a fatal heart attack in Vail, Colorado. The hotel even had to break the door down as Steve made a habit of dead bolting the door so that the cleaning crew didn’t wake him up. He is remembered through his words: “This is what I live for… I had a great life, so please don’t cry for me. I’ve had the life of 100 men.”