Tag Archives: Keith Haring

Conservation of Street Art

The desire to preserve the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood was a combination of community concerns and heritage values. Horizon scanning it is clear that the conservation of street art will be an increasing issue. Although some street art is ephemeral other murals are considered permanent and people would grieve their loss.

Haring mural in Collingwood

“Conservation of Wall Paintings, Murals and Street Art – an international perspective” was presented by Australian ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) at the University of Melbourne on 18 February 2020. It consisted of two talks by Will Shank and Antonio Rava; the two conservators who worked on the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood.

Antonio Rava presented “Comparative Studies of Outdoor Contemporary Mural Conservation”. And Will Shank, “The Conservation of Contemporary Murals: How is it different?” Both spoke about the ethics and techniques of conservation of murals and street art and their work on the Keith Haring mural.

Conservation is about saving the life of a work of art. The scientific application of techniques to preserve, arrest and reverse deterioration.

Murals need protection from the sun, rain and, even the airborne pollutants of the city. There can be problems with plaster delaminating from the surface of the building or suffusing through the layer of paint. Rain washes out the soluble material and acrylic spray paints contain water soluble material. Black lines get hotter in the summer and cracking the surface of the paint. So do not have murals, in southern hemisphere, on north facing walls because the damage to the paint by the sun.

The ethics of art conservation are based on not doing anything that the artist does not approve or would not have approved. There are also, in some cases of street art, the moral rights of architects not to have their work altered, in which case Antonio Rava advocates “let it fade”.

Between 2010-2012 there was a debate about how best to treat Haring’s Collingwood wall. Public sculpture is considered to have a renewable surface, holes in them are patched and repainted regularly, but to what extent is the surface of public murals renewable? Could it simply be repainted?

Rava outlined problems with repainting Haring murals loosing the quality of Haring’s hand movement. For it is the line that is the most important part of Haring’s work. And on the mural Haring’s red lines were particularly faded; a transparent glaze over them meant that you can still see the original brush strokes.

The conservators also faced the problem of how to clean a large rough surface. In the end artist’s gum pencil erasers were used to remove a material on the wall that had built up over the paint.

What is being done to preserve the community murals of Melbourne from the 1970s and 80s? Will Shank, who had worked on walls from the community murals movement of San Francisco, reminded the audience that are no community murals in Chicago from the 1960s.

I am unaware of any other murals in Melbourne that are being conserved like the Haring nor of any plans. Most of Melbourne’s murals, street art and graffiti are only being preserved in digital photographs. What Melbourne’s street art murals would you mourn if they disappeared? And what plans should be made to conserve them?


The scene: Haring & Basquiat

This to-do list by is  Keith Haring is a massive name drop even though mostly only first names are used: Whoopi, Jean Michel, Debbie … It is exhibited as part of the documentary part of the exhibition “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV. It shows the vibrant artistic scene that Haring and Basquiat inhabited.

The scene, the geographic-social environment that an artist lives and works in. The loose association that both inspires and documents them. Often appears as interesting as the artist themselves – Warhol’s Factory scene, the Dadaist or the Surrealists.

I wonder how the geographic-social environment contributes to an artist’s development and success or failure? How much their art is a product of a network of people talking, dancing and otherwise moving around (depending on the type of transport)?

Or is it all about the unique talent of the ‘great man’ independent from the city and its society? If it is all about the person then it is very surprising that two or more great artists, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, would emerge at the same time and place.

Even if it is unique talent of the individual that created it is the social environment that gives meaning to the art. Without the gay club scene Haring would not have created his dancing figures or his art about AIDS. Without his black identity Basquiat would not have attempted to write art history. These topics were not so much chosen by the artist as determined by the scene.

Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were living in a particularly fertile art scene, that produced many other artists including the street artists, Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf. A self-selecting scene, volunteers who had congregated because they wanted to be artists and New York was the place to do it. It was a geographic and social circle that included various clubs, art galleries, flats and people from Madonna to William Burroughs.

The exhibition catalogue for “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” does much to document their scene. It has many interviews, including one with Jenny Holzer and Patti Astor. And a map of lower Manhattan shows the tight geography where everything was within walking distance or a few subway stops. (I can’t emphasis enough how important a walkable geography is to a vibrant arts scene.)

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. See also Haring/Basquiat @NGV and Under the Influence (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition.)


Under the influence

“His flesh turns to viscid, transparent jelly that drifts away in green mist, unveiling a monster black centipede. Waves of unknown stench fill the room, searing the lungs, grabbing the stomach…”           William Burroughs Naked Lunch

Keith Haring Untitled 1983 © Keith Haring Foundation

Both Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were influenced by William Burroughs; their shared interest in semiotics and proximity in the NYC art scene made it almost inevitable that they would meet. Haring was a friend of Burroughs, the invite-Keith-around-to-dinner-kind of friend and collaborate on a couple of books, as opposed to a ‘Facebook friend’. So Burroughs influence on Haring is extensive from Haring’s distinctive hieroglyphic iconography to his, not well known, cut up collages and performance poetry.

‘Lick Fat Boys’ by Haring owes much to works, in film and audio, by Burroughs and Brion Gysin, e.g. “Recalling All Active Agents” In these works words are rearranged and reordered to create new meanings. Haring’s cut-up collages of text and images look very similar to Burroughs’s pages of cut-ups with collage elements.

“Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV documents this influence; including a list of people from Basquiat with Burroughs along with Prince, David Lynch and Godard (Burroughs is misspelt ‘Burrows’).

Although the exhibition documents Burroughs influence it then ignores it continuing to ignore it when it comes to interpreting the work. It describes the personal computer headed centipedes in Haring’s paintings as “caterpillars”. It is not a correct description for several reasons. Centipedes are used in many of Burroughs’s novels including Naked Lunch as a symbol of self-centred evil whereas caterpillars are not used as symbols of evil in anyone’s iconography. Centipedes are distinguished by having one set of legs for each segment of body, which is what is shown in Haring’s images even though they and all species of centipede don’t have a hundred legs. Finally, caterpillars don’t walk, they crawl, grasping on with their prolegs to pull their body forward until it arches; an iconic movement not depicted by Haring.

Keith Haring Untitled 1982 © Keith Haring Foundation

Haring and Basquiat had an influence on Australian art, especially its street art. The walls that Haring painted are still visible in Melbourne (see my blog post). His simple style of line drawn figures is not inimitable but few do. There is only a couple of Melbourne street artist openly and obviously influenced by Haring – Ero and Civil. Although the influence of Haring, in particular his dogs, on the iconography of clothing manufacturer Mambo has yet to be fully explored; the first appearance of the Mambo’s farting dog occurred in 1984 the same year that Haring visited Australia.

The influence of Basquiat’s visual style is even wider and more varied; from the work of street-artists from Anthony Lister to many contemporary/non-street artists.

How important is influence? Influence has so often been seen as a positive attribute however each iteration of this style weakens the effect, until it becomes bland and ordinary.

Civil, detail of mural, Brunswick

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. To read the first post. (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition and access to media photographs.)


Haring/Basquiat @ NGV

“Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International is the world premiere exhibition bringing together two NYC artists from the 1980s. There are deeper connections than being in the same city, at the same time (both were raised Catholic and identified as men): both were known their work on the streets and for their drawn lines. Both are great artists who knew each other, drew each other, collaborated with each other. And yet are very different people and artists.

Recreation of Haring’s waterwall painting from 1984

“Crossing Lines” is a large exhibition with over 200 works by the two artists along with many documents, photographs and any other things that explain the NYC art scene that they inhabited. There are important major paintings from both artists are shown but it the early work that exhibition excels (at the same time causing it to jump around both artist’s short lives). For two artists with tragically short lives the exhibition does jump around in time a bit getting work to fit into themes.

It was great to see some very early work from off the street, including a panel where they both added their already iconic images: Haring’s dog and baby and Basquiat’s crown. There are more street art collaborations with Kenny Scharf, Fab 5 Freddy and LAII.

detail of street work featuring both Haring and Basquiat

It is a big exhibition for artists two artists with limited iconographies but there is more variety that I expected. To accompany this variety there is a great variety of exhibition spaces, along with large and small, there is music and silence and types of light (the UV light room with fluorescent colours). It is an exhibition that I could dance to. What to do with the long corridors that connects the galleries is always a problem for the NGV curators but this time they make it work with videos and enlarged photos.

A small local complaint that there was no any mention of a Haring visit to Melbourne in 1984 and that his work is still on its walls. (See my blog post.) The stolen, and later returned, door with his iconic radiant baby from the wall of the Collingwood Tech was on exhibition but without any explanation.

I had a lot of fun at the exhibition and it has given me a lot to think about, bringing together thoughts that have been going around in my brain since the 1980s. So I will be writing a series of posts about it: under the influence. (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition and access to media photographs)

Exhibition wall with the door from the Collingwood Tech

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What ever happened to the idea of the neo-renaissance artist in the 1970s and 80s? The artist who worked across media a diverse as paint and film, music and fashion. It wasn’t just Haring and Basquiat who worked in art, fashion and music. There were multiple versions of this idea, the prime example being Andy Warhol as photographer, film maker and the Velvet Underground’s producer.

It is about a way of life rather than a professional approach. A hiphop/punk utopia with the total merger of art, politics and life; painting in the afternoon and spinning records at night. This diversity of practice is so different from many current contemporary artists who are often focused on a single media and subject.


Intermission @ Collingwood Technical College

Intermission at the old Collingwood Technical College is three floors of an unoccupied school turned into a space for over thirty street artists to paint and install art in. Curated by Goodie the exhibition is a curious mix between contemporary art and the aesthetics of an abandoned building with the tags.

Sofles

It is a huge space and many of Melbourne’s notable street artists had pieces or often whole rooms to work with. It was good to see Astral Nadir working on a large scale. To see LucyLucy again on a large scale without the rest of the AWOL crew. And old faces like those of Mic Porter who was active a decade ago is back.

It had been raining for most Saturday afternoon but that didn’t put the public off. As only 200 people were allowed on the upper floors at a time and the public was queueing up out the building only an hour after it opened. After all this was great free entertainment: on the ground floor there were bands, DJs, VR movies and cans of Young Henry’s beer and cider being handed out. Fortunately it is not a one day only event and Intermission runs until 21 January.

In some ways it was a bit like Melbourne Open House for the old building. The art deco building has been left abandoned for 12 years – what a waste of space! The two bedroom caretaker’s flat on the top floor was a revelation. The event is an intermission as the Collingwood Technical College is about to be turned into the Collingwood Arts Precinct; Circus Oz and the Melba Spiegeltent are already out the back.

The exhibition was better than a whole stack of pieces painted on the walls inside a building as there were artists who had site specific work. Site specific is more than just placing their work in relation to the architecture but creating work that directly referred to the space. Heesco captured the feel of street artists painting in an abandoned building in his combination of installation and wall painting. 23rd Key referred to the location in a mural that mixed the face of Keith Haring with the Apollo Belevadere in tribute to Haring’s surviving and restored mural on outside wall of the Collingwood Technical College.

The inside and outside of a building might raise ontological issues between the words ‘street art’ and ‘urban contemporary art’ but I’m going to call it all street art rather than creating a useless lexicon and pretending that art and artists are always classified in a logical and accurate manner. After all abandoned building are a traditional site for graff and street artists to paint. As street art it was impressive and fun but it was weak as contemporary art. Sometimes it felt like a funky installation at an art squat in Paris or Berlin while at other times just another great Melbourne wall.

 


A shadow of a memory

The death of Richard Hambleton, ‘Shadowman’ reminded me that, aside from Keith Haring, Shadowman was the only other street artist that I’d heard about in the 1980s. I knew about Keith Haring because of his tour of Australia.

In the 1980s it was difficult to access information and finding it was often determined more by fortune than strategy. I heard about Shadowman by word of mouth and I don’t think that I saw an image of his work until decades later. At the time I was living in Coburg and studying at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It was a long way from New York’s East Village where Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger et. al. were putting up ‘wall-posters’ (paste-ups) and Shadowman was splashing paint around.

In 1985 I heard of him as “Splashman”. A friend, Rod who was doing media studies at Rusden, told me that he had heard about this guy splashing paint to create silhouette figures on walls. It was from a second or third hand report that was probably based on a 1983 profile of the artist in People magazine. My friend told me that Shadowman had painted in Berlin. Given that it was in Berlin and I assumed that it must be on the Berlin Wall because, at the time, that was the best known location for artistic graffiti (the definition of ‘graffiti’ was still fluid at that time).

At the time I didn’t know that Richard Hambleton, was an NYC-based, Canadian artist with long term problems of addiction to heroin and crack. At the time he was a mysterious, unknown person painting on walls at a time when that was very unusual. His art and existence raised many questions and provided few answers. Now only the shadow of a memory remains.

For more and images of Hambleton’s work see: Daniel Maurer “Banksy Precursor Richard Hambleton Dies at 65, Days Before MoMA Show and Shadowman Film”.

 


Graffiti and Street Art by Anna Wacławek

All art history students would be familiar with the Thames & Hudson World of Art series. These paperback books with their black spines are authoritative accounts of various art movements, styles and histories. When Thames & Hudson launched its World of Art series in 1958 it aimed to produce low cost, high quality art books. Now with over 300 titles in the series ranging from Aboriginal Art to Internet Art it is not surprising that there is Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art (Thames & Hudson, 2011, London).

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In the book’s introduction Wacławek notes that: “a major study of graffiti and street art grounded in visual art analysis has yet to be published,” and that she intends this book to fill that gap. Most of the words about graffiti and street art have being written in sociology or criminology rather than from the discipline of visual arts. The lack of a serious book on the art of graffiti and street art is surprising given that in 1984 Thames and Hudson published the some of the first documentation of graffiti art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art. But Subway Art, like most of the earlier books on graffiti, is a collection of photographs.

Graffiti and Street Art certainly fills that gap. After reading so many short articles and interviews with artists it was relief to read in an organised and systematic order in one book rather than gleaming the same information from diverse sources. Wacławek’s precise language can pack many ideas into a single sentence. The many photographs in the book are used as examples and each one is referred to in the text.

The first question about such a book is if graffiti writers do not consider their work art then what is point of an art book is actually an irrelevant question. Apart from some contemporary English speaking artists the same can be said about almost everyone currently called an artist. But trivial categorisation disputes aside the art of graffiti needs to be included in this book. Describing the structure of graffiti writing and the genealogy of graffiti is necessary, at the very least to distinguish it from street art.

Later the question, ‘is graffiti art?’, allows Wacławek to distinguish art history from visual culture studies. Distinguish between art history and visual culture history removes the aura of excellence around in art history and allows the examination of  popular images. This is an important distinctions not just for graffiti and street art but for any examination of popular images.

The popularity of graffiti and street art is not dismissed but examined. It is looked at in the collaboration of the public in the creation of street art. When Wacławek examines the dissemination of street art in photographs and online she raises the question: where do you see the most street art and graffiti on the streets or online?

Examining graffiti and street art from the perspective of art history is important that issues of style, subject and signature key to both art history and graffiti. Wacławek gives context to Haring and Basquiat as a sidetrack in the history of graffiti. There are also occasionally references to contemporary artists, like Andy Goldsmith, in perspective with street art

Sometimes I felt that Wacławek was being too subtle with both her arguments and the examples that accompanied them rather than doing something more obvious. Vexta and Nick Walker are the examples in the section titled “Identity Politics”. However, if the average reader can think of the more obvious arguments and examples is it necessary to writing them?

At the University of Melbourne has CCDP20001 Street Art can now be studied as part of the breadth subjects for undergraduates studying Science, Music, Commerce, Biomedicine and Arts. I am surprised that this book is not one of the prescribed texts.

The prescribed texts for the subject are:

Cubrilo, Duro et al (2010), King’s Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti – Melbourne 1983-1993 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press)

Schacter, Rafael (ed.) (2013) The World Atlas of Graffiti and Street Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.

Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art is a book that is needed by the many high school students and university students who are and will be studying graffiti and street art.

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