KEITH HARING @ 50 / Revisited
This article was posted by Haze 1 Year, 3 months, 1 week, 2 hours, 1 minute ago.
At the time, it was part of something I had been planning to compile and write for ages,
which finally seemed appropriate for not only the anniversary which it signified,
but also in regard to some of my own perspectives having recently moved back to New York over a decade later after Keith’s passing.
It was also one of the first major blog pieces I ever wrote on the now long defunkt riottt.com,
which I have been meaning to repost again on 12oz at the right time since it disappeared from cyberspace in 2009.
I almost reposted it again last year around the “Art in The Streets” show, as it seemed even more relavent that ever then too,
but there was already enough media buzz surrounding that show that it seemed a waste to just throw it back against the wall for that reason.
When I saw the opening photo above for the first time last year I knew that was my visual cue for the reposting,
and now, with an exhibition of Kieith’s work from 1978 - 1982 opening at none other than the Brooklyn Museum this month,
hopefully this piece, like Keith’s work itself, will continue to be appreciated in the light of history.
Here is the original 50th birthday anniversary piece,
reposted again in what now also happens to be my 50th year, unedited and untouched from back in March 2008 :
Last Sunday, May 4th, was the 50th anniversary of Keith Haring’s Birthday.
There have been a number of celebrations of his life and work around NY this month,
including a new documentary about his life, the recreation of his historical mural on Houston St.,
a revival of his “party of life” sunday night, and the launch of a new foundation to support the arts
as a collaboration between the Keith Haring Foundation and the (new) New Museum on Bowery.
I also wanted to take this occasion to celebrate his life and work here now;
I have long been meaning to roll up my sleeves and put together a piece about Keith’s continued significance in the modern landscape,
as well as showcase some of the works and artifacts he blessed me with over the years of our friendship.
His birthday presented the perfect time and place to put it into context now, so here goes:
I first met Keith at the monday night meetings and workshops that our crew -
The Soul Artists - held every week at our manhattan storefront in 1980.
The meetings had quickly become notorious throughout the NYC graffiti and alternative art communities,
where what was originally a small group of us from the upper west side that included Ali, Futura, Zephyr, Crunch and myself,
was soon attracting the likes of Keith, Lee, Fab Five Freddy, Jean Michael Basquiat, Dondi, Blade
and countless other artists who would prove influential in reshaping the art world of the times…
not to mention the many journalists and curators like Richard Goldstein, Diego Cortez, and Patti Astor,
who would also play pivotal roles in the movement gaining exposure and coming of age on many levels.
At that time, Keith was still working as a busboy at the night club Danceteria,
while preparing his first major drawing show at White Columns Gallery,
and was just starting to get serious local recognition from his saturation of remarkable chalk drawings on the NY subway stations.
Amidst a group of mainly hard core and competitive graffiti artists,
Keith’s openness and generosity stood out from the start, inviting us all downtown to his upcoming shows,
and also encouraging us to check out Club 57 and the Mudd Club Gallery on White street…
( where Fab 5 and Futura then went on to curate another seminal art show called “Beyond Words” )
Keith quickly proved to be the embodiment of the out of towner who brings something new to the table here in NY;
with a fresh eye and perspective, combined with an innate ability to understand the bigger picture,
he was one of the few outsiders of that era who was clearly influenced by the style and spirit of subway graffiti,
without ever confusing his relationship to or co-opting it into anything less than his own natural progression.
Where Kieth brought a new academic kind of approach to the immediacy he found here on the streets of New York,
I believe we all learned and benefited from some of the conceptual maturity he brought into our community too.
Through Keith, we also met the curator Diego Cortez, who invited us to be in our first major gallery show at P.S.1 called “New York, New Wave”,
where Dondi, Futura, Lee, Pink, Ali, Zephyr, Fab 5 Freddy and I first all showed our paintings alongside the likes of
Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith, Jean Micheal, and a host of other emerging names in the New York art world.
So in my mind - though there were certainly a number of other key players -
Keith was one if the first and most important links for graffiti to the art world below 14th St,
and though he never considered himself a graffiti artist in the traditional sense,
he came to embody the bridge between creating illegal artwork while embracing the fine art world,
effectively balancing graf’s original ethos of free public minded art while still creating
value and significance within the economic structure of the legitimate art market…
no less than pretty much completely on his own terms at every step of the way.
and though it would take so much more time and space than just a blog to really do justice to the significance of his life and work,
there are a few things I wanted to at least share from my own perspective now,
as a friend, as an artist, and as someone who continues to be influenced by and benefit from some of Keith’s contributions:
Keith was the first person who encouraged me to create product,
and told me that if I printed t-shirts and stickers and we could sell them in his brand new “Pop Shop” in Soho.
I then printed my first “Bat Haze” t-shirts and stickers in 1984, which we sold there throughout the 80’s…
Not only was that completely pivotal for me in so many ways,
but Keith was really the first of our generation who truly understood and embraced,
like Warhol before him, the symbiotic relationship between art and product this way :
artist as icon + recognizable style = a fluid marketable identity.
He was so far ahead of the curve of how we all eventually learned to brand ourselves via distributable product + merchandise,
so far ahead of the curve of what is now ingrained in every emerging modern artist’s quest for recognition and market value.
To his credit, he was also never afraid of potentially undermining his value to the elite high art world
by keeping true to the populist notion of low cost / high access art for the masses…
so often putting his money where his mouth was by dedicating so much time and work for free to many worldwide charities and communities.
I have always felt that beyond the scope of his actual body of work, perhaps Keith’s greatest contributions were more about challenging
these barriers between art, commerce and popular culture, and that he deserves more credit than people realize
for paving the way for the modern “artist identity based product” that now saturates the market.
There have been many times along the way since Keith passed that I reflect with mixed feelings on how sorry I am
that he didn’t live to see the way the art, design and product worlds exploded internationally along with hip hop from the 90’s to now…
knowing how excited he would have been about participating in it, also imaging his indelible stamp on “streetwear” as we now know it.
I remember Keith’s excitement when he was opening the pop shop in Tokyo,
and his frustration at having to close it down shortly after because the bootlegging got just so out of control so fast…
I also remember walking down the street in Tokyo in the early 90’s taking it all in,
being sorry I could no longer compare notes and share my successes and struggles there with him too.
I also remember stopping by Keith’s studio one day coming home from class at the School of Visual Arts -
which he had dropped out of the year before I enrolled - and telling him how psyched about my class on “corporate identity” I was…
He looked at me like I was totally crazy, since that world seemed to symbolize everything our movement was trying to stand against at the time.
and though I was able to share the early successes of creating album cover art and starting my design studio with him,
I always felt he never really got to see how the musicians and artists of our generation actually
wrestled the essence of corporate identity back from the establishment in the 90’s…
utilizing the existing models to empower and redefine ourselves in our own marketplace.
again, it was something he would have really been excited about, and I can only imagine his continued contributions over the years.
and for reasons I almost hesitate to put into words now,
I find myself influenced even more by the spirit and power of his work these days than ever.
After years of focusing primarily on the always so planned out worlds of design and production,
I am most drawn again to the quality and immediacy of the kind of line art that can only come from the human hand,
where beauty and emotion is held in a single gesture, and where, like the purest outline of a great graffiti masterpiece or throw up,
there is no substitute for the speed and confidence of total commitment to the moment.
That is Keith’s work all day long, with a personal style and vocabulary that will stand the endless test of time…
and it’s a beautiful thing.
Having buried and honored the passing of many good friends and major influences over the years,
I have always been conscious of the fact that, at least as an artist, in the end,
it often remains very much about what you left behind and the paths you chose along the way.
I well remember the clarity and confidence with which Keith first told me that he had been diagnosed HIV+,
being sure to tell his friends face to face first before going very public with it,
as he planned to embrace his last days as fully, positively and productively as he could,
also being as much a force for change and awareness of what was still a relatively new disease as possible.
In a way, I saw that this awareness of his own mortality gave him a great sense of
peace and accomplishment within his brief and limited journey through all of our lives…
and I guess we should all be so lucky as to depart with the sense of fulfillment that I believe Keith truly felt in the end.
so with all these thoughts and sentiments,
I want to honor the rare and visionary spirit that Keith was, celebrate the life and work of a great friend,
and share a few of the gems from my collection of works and presents from him throughout the golden years of the 80’s…
One of Keith’s first publications, I believe based on the work from his drawing show at White Columns Gallery in 1980.
These really give a taste of the initial development of his “radiant” dog, baby, and human forms :
This was the first Japanese magazine I ever saw here in NY, I believe in 1981.
( They also produced a limited edition Levi’s style linen jacket with the cover art printed on the back,
which I have archived somewhere but just couldn’t manage to find and dig out in time for this post ) :
Published in 1982 by his art dealer and gallery, Tony Shafrazzi, this book offered one of the first real windows into both Kieth’s work and world :
It’s almost hard to recognize without all the current disney neon backgrounds, but this was as big as it got in times square back in the day :
This is one of 10 pieces he gave to friends for X-mas that year, and I believe I am one of the few,
if not the only one, who didn’t sell their’s during many of our leaner years in the late ‘80s.
It is painted with enamel paint on a 12’x 12"x 3” heat baked enamel coated metal box.
The photos really don’t do this piece justice, and yes, I really do need to properly treat the rust on the back one of these days soon too :
Published in in 1984, “Art In Transit” contains the most comprehensive documentation of Keith’s subway station chalk drawings :
Back then the penalty for getting caught bombing was still pretty much just a slap on the wrist…
( not the case at all anymore in post 9/11 NYC. ) :
Zephyr and SE-3 up in the mix…Astor Place Station on the IRT 6 line :
This is the invite to the second anniversary of Keith’s annual “party of life” in 1985,
which he held for many years at the old Palladium on 14th St. I bet the puzzle would look really dope put together and framed too :
This is a reproduction of a handmade book he created as a birthday present for Francesco Clemente’s daughter Nina in 1988,
which was later published by Prestel in 1994 :
I also reproduced a limited edition of this artwork in 2000 on T-shirts and Sweatshirts exclusively for Ships in Japan,
with permission from The Keith Haring Foundation….( Thanks, Julia. )
One of my favorite signed pieces, this is the inside cover of a calendar from 1988.
Keith did countless installations all over the world and this photo really gives such a great sense of his work on interior spaces :
Finally, a piece that kind of sums up a lot of what I tried to put into context at this point in time, with a good story behind it too :
In 1988, I happened to be in LA working on a project with Vision Street Wear
at the same time Keith was also having the opening of a major show at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.
The after party for the show was at Timothy Leary’s house up in the hills on Mulholland Drive, where we all rolled to after the show…
Not only was the party exactly how I might have imagined it - complete with Barbara Leary passing out hash brownies on platters -
but I remember Dr. Leary showing and explaining something to us all on a computer screen that was just way too over my head at the time…
Looking back now, I think it was actually a very early glimpse into the invention of the internet, way before it seemed tangible at all.
Anyway, it was a great party, an honor to meet Timothy Leary on these terms too,
and Keith presented me with this inscribed copy of Dr. Leary’s autobiography shortly after we got back to NY :
This inscription in part reflects many conversations we had about how we both felt
that psychedelic drug use had profoundly opened up our “vision” as artists…
plus, I believe, it was also Keith’s way of projecting his understanding of the progression of great things to come, not only for myself,
but in the radical paradigm shifts that would soon continue to redefine the street level marriages of art, design, fashion and pop culture…
part of an endless timeline in which Keith’s life and work will continue to hold it’s own true meaning, place and value.
Eric / Haze
© Haze & 12ozProphet - Tuesday March 13, 2012