The potential to be transported to a different place, to hear different sounds, to meet different people, to engage with different ideas, seems like a possibility almost as distant as time travel is right now.
Yet on the first page of Keith Haring’s crystal-clear Simon Doonans biography, he manages to change the state of readers in an instant, pushing us into the spa time machine that dates back to the early 1980s. worth getting soaked, check it out:
It’s a wet Sunday morning on 14th Street in 1983. I spend a week in New York City to throw myself into the explosive, neon, post-punk, downtown scene. At the corner of Sixth Avenue, I meet a friend named Vikki. She’s a nice girl from LA, who recently moved to Manhattan. She tells me she landed a job as a go-go dancer at the newly opened Limelight, a den of iniquity located in a Gothic church on Sixth Avenue and 20th Street. . . I am delighted to meet Vikki. I think she’ll share some information about the booming groovy scene, and I’m right. You missed Keith Harings’ opening last night. It was insane. See. He drew all over my shirt. She opens her Fiorucci jacket and flashes her T-shirt, which is decorated with a series of cartoon line drawings. Who Keith Haring ?, I ask. He likes it all, she explains. His drawings are everywhere in the metro. I never wash this shirt again. It’s going to be huge. He’s already showing Shafrazi. You are so beside him.
There is a strong sense that Doonan was also bypassing this period alongside and within the scene Haring took root in.
At just over 100 pages, Doonans Haring’s entry in the Laurence King Lives of the Artists series of biographies (previously featuring Warhol, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Frida Kahlo, and upcoming biographies include Yayoi Kusama, David Hockney and Caravaggio), is not just a pocket guide, but offers the reader a comprehensive understanding of the life and work of Keith Haring.
Born in 1958, Haring grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. He moved to New York in 1978, evolving from an early street art star to an international art star, collaborating with nightclubs and the people who frequented them including Grace Jones and the clothes they wore, including Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.
His Pop Shop, an intentional democratic approach to selling his work at reasonable prices and marketing it to the general public, rocked the more formal art world, but spread its message, colors and lines to the global scale. Gay, he was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 and died in 1990, before the arrival of life-saving drugs that now allow people to live with HIV.
Doonan is familiar with his subject matter, but he is also aware of the large amount already available on Haring, which maybe only Andy Warhol maybe Banksy is replacing the most merchant, scammed, and referenced pop artist in mainstream culture.
There has been a lot of writing about Keith Haring, Doonan says, and I obviously read it mostly before and during the writing of this book. What I found was a lot of people who hadn’t necessarily been through this period. They didn’t necessarily communicate the crazy energy and cultural mix that was going on. It was like living in a pinball machine, that period of the eighties. And I wanted to communicate that, rather than having something a little more serious and a little more from the art world. I wanted something that reflected the energy of the time. It was very intentional.
Throughout the biography, Doonan weaves together a Haring tale that is rooted in the defining moments of the artist’s childhood and career, but also the ecosystem he simultaneously evolved and created.
There is a strong sense that Doonan also sidestepped this period alongside and within the scene Haring took root in, and the vibrancy of that era is showing, of course in part thanks to the brands Haring has there. left, often literally, in galleries and clubs. , metro stations and street walls, exposing its brilliance to the outside world.
Doonan now recognizes that the genesis of this era is as distant for today’s youth as World War I was for him growing up in England. At the heart of Harings ‘life and Doonans’ observations is an intrinsic understanding of how the interconnectedness and clash of several bubbly cultures at the time contributed to something much greater than the sum of its parts, a cultivation point that is always desired, replicated, referenced and praised for.
The punk rock movement of the seventies set people free. After that, all the preconceived notions of art and culture came out of the window. Suddenly you had fashion, art, rap, graffiti, hip hop, breakdance, all of these things collided in ways that they hadn’t really been allowed to before.
Doonan is interested in the present and the inevitable potential for creativity on the other side of this repressive pandemic
The art world kept fashion at bay before because they thought it devalued things, made them superficial. Andy Warhol has been criticized a lot for being too involved in fashion. But in the eighties, all preconceived ideas came out the window.
Doonan recalls an event in Barneys when Haring painted a Levis jacket that Iman was wearing, walking down the stairs with Madonna by his side. The artists’ willingness to be a part of something because the buzz was so appealing is something that Doonan still remembers vividly, at Barneys we would have people like Basquiat, Madonna, Keith Haring, Rauschenberg, all of these artists were coming and going. didn’t think twice about it, because they wanted to. They sensed that something was going on. This new movement that Madonna was really a part of, Debbie Harry, in downtown Manhattan where all this cultural mashup was happening, and they wanted to be a part of it. They didn’t need the coercion.
To be fair to today’s artists, there weren’t all these contradictory events. Now artists are drawn in a million different directions. Back then, it was a smaller universe, so it was easier to galvanize people for AIDS benefit in 1986.
His memories of Harings’ work in all of his eclectic places flow from his mouth and his mind at a time when he is invited there, Going to the opening of the Palladium and Keith Haring had painted the backdrop. Hang out in the Mike Todd room [the VIP room in the club, which featured murals by Haring and Basquiat]. Seeing his installation at Paradise Garage. The opening of the Pop Shop, so legendary and so innovative. . . See these drawings in black chalk on the subway for the first time in Manhattan. The memories are very vivid because there was nothing hazy about what he did. These Crack is Wack murals have all been designed to stay in your mind. All Radiant Baby intensely visual pictograms. His work was designed to accommodate if your memory serves. I remember it all.
Digging through an era with a sort of blunt freshness, Doonan is interested in the now and the inevitable potential for creativity on the other side of this repressive pandemic.
I think it’s already happening, he said of the Neo-Roaring Twenties, the young people are already there to shake things up, to do crazy things. All the kids that I know, my friends’ kids, they’re all up all night doing God knows what. They do what kids are supposed to do in their teens and twenties – have a crazy, crazy time. And I think the crackdown on them because of Covid is going to produce explosive creativity.
I think it’s probably already in motion. I couldn’t tell you what it is, because I’m 68, but I believe it. I grew up in post-war austerity, and before we know it the sixties have come and everything exploded in Strawberry Fields and technicolor and swinging London. I saw these protean [moments].
The seventies, which was a time of austerity in America and England, produced punk rock and then new wave and eighties and Keith Haring, so I absolutely believe it. People talk about the Spanish flu and what happened after that, but they forget to mention the first world war. The First World War had an even greater impact on the population, devastating loss of life and [people were] looking at the end of the world, looking at armageddon.
Then comes the Spanish flu, then the period of unfettered and unfettered creativity exploded in the twenties and thirties. It’s logic. I absolutely believe in it. I am very optimistic about this. I would suspect that everything is already underway.
Keith Haring by Simon Doonan as part of The Artists Lives book series is published by Laurence King
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