By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Artist Kenny Scharf sprayed his stamp of approval on a recently opened gallery on East 9th Street that hopes to reinvigorate the neighborhood's once-thriving art scene.
Scharf, who worked alongside artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat during the area's artistic heyday in the 1980s, showed up Wednesday to spray-paint a mural for the new Dorian Grey Gallery between First Avenue and Avenue A, right across the street from where he once lived and worked.
"I've been spraying like nuts lately," said Scharf, who spent an hour covering the gallery's roll-down security gate, before tearing off to work on another mural at the legendary Houston Street wall made famous by his friend Haring decades ago.
Scharf's unexpected painting for Dorian Grey marks somewhat of a culmination of the gallery's coming-out in the East Village, which has seen fewer art spaces open due to rising rents.
But that didn't stop partners Christopher Pusey and Luis Accorsi — both veteran art dealers who worked together in SoHo's booming art scene during the '80s — from taking a stab at their own venture inside a small storefront near Tompkins Square Park.
"Wouldn't it be great if we could go back to the way it was," Pusey recalled of why the two decided to open the gallery. "It was a Dorian Grey moment."
With that, Pusey and Accorsi subleased the space at 437 E. 9th Street and immediately decided to pay tribute to the area's street-art roots by holding a 30-year graffiti retrospective that ended with a free-for-all tag session at the space.
"I'm finding a lot of people coming in to reminisce," Pusey said of visitors stopping in to check out the gallery's newest offering, Sounds in the Distance, an East Village-inspired show featuring works by Haring, David Sandlin, Spencer Tunick, and local photographers Nan Goldin, Clayton Patterson and Max Snow.
The exhibition is an homage to the neighborhood's grittier side — with portraits of punks and drag queens mixed among the fantastical imagery of Scharf and Sandlin.
Gallerist Michelle Tillou originally needed a place to exhibit "Sounds in the Distance" and turned to her friend Pusey, who provided the perfect fit with his new space.
"We really wanted to put together a show of what was in the East Village, and feature the next generation of artists that were influences by it," Pusey said.
And while Dorian Grey's lease only lasts through March, he hopes the gallery will become a permanent fixture with artists like Scharf stopping by to brighten the space.
"With that spontaneity, stuff happens," Pusey said. "It's happening. I definitely feel that we've got something going."