The Xerox Art Movement of 1980-81


Between 1980 and 1981, a lot of emerging artists knew the Zeitgeist was changing and were experimenting with new media hoping to catch whatever wave might come along. For a year or two, Xerox art became the rage for many. In fact, Jean Michel Basquiat was doing it before he started painting on canvas, and the form may have even helped him segue from writing cryptic poems in the street to inventing his own image vocabulary based on opening up his inner child. Tom Forcade, the founder of High Times, by the way, was an influence on Jean’s teen years because Forcade was the most legendary character living downtown in the 1970s. Jean dumped a box of shaving cream on his high school principal, something that might have been inspired by Tom throwing a pie inside Congress during an investigation on pornography a few years earlier. One of Jean’s biggest boosters at the time (Glenn O’Brien) was momentarily Editor of High Times, and wrote the first major article on the new writers like Jean and Fab Five, although no one thinks of Jean as a writer today as he quickly backed away from that scene.

Of all these Xerox artists, Keith Haring was one of the most political, using Burrough’s cut-up technique to rearrange headlines from the rabidly right-wing New York Post to convey shocking messages (left). Haring was also very prolific. Anytime he did something, Keith usually went all-in, and his short-lived Xerox phase was no exception. Kenny Scharf might have been living with Keith at the time, although maybe they were just in school together but he also joined in with his own Xerox art.

Vapo Jet is the title of this piece, and it has to be one of the most phallic of all Kenny’s early work. The Fifties mom wearing Jetson-style sunglasses quickly became a recurring archetype in Kenny’s personal iconography. I wonder sometimes if my Xerox art collection is worth anything? None of the pieces are signed and it’s pretty easy to make forgeries, although I’ve never tried.

Keith eventually switched from cutting up Post headlines to inventing his own personal iconography, and that switch took place during the short-lived Xerox art movement. By New Year’s Eve 1980, Keith’s new vocabulary was fully formed (left). Meanwhile, Kenny went to soak up the vibes at Stonehenge that spring and made a color Xerox that shows him with Samantha and Bruno.

4 Replies to “The Xerox Art Movement of 1980-81”

  1. Hi Steve, I only recently was turned on to your work and picked up a vintage copy of AAM. It’s really quite spectacular. Are the pieces you reference in this article part of your Xerox collection? If so, they are great. The value of a Xerox varies, but it’s most important feature is authentication or provenance. I’d assume coming from you that they’d garner the higher end prices if you obtained them from the artists themselves or from someone associated with them. I have seen Xeroxes sell for a few hundred dollars and have seen people ask much more, however am unaware of any being sold for higher than a few hundred. They are cool, where did you get them?

    1. I got these direct from the artists, except for Jean Michel’s which I got from one of his close associates. Keith Haring and Kenny were happy to give me samples of the Xerox work.

      1. That’s amazing. I love the Xeroxed images of the early 80’s. Would love to see more if you have others? They are really great. To think that you’re met them and acquired them is really quite nice. If you wanted to sell them I’m sure a letter of authenticity from you would carry enough weight to get their premium. If you do want to sell them ever I’d be interested. I believe you have my email?

  2. That would make a great book. The artwork of Xerox from the 80’s. I’ve seen books on punk flyers, but never one on Xerox art. Do you know of a book available on the subject? I keep perusing yours, which is the staple of the era. What other titles would you recommend for that time period in the arts? I send my thanks in advance.

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