Today is World Aids Day and it seems the right time to share how Keith Haring and my beautiful friend Steve both touched me in my early artistic journey.
I’m not a sentimental person and I don’t want to dwell on loss, but it’s hard not to when reflecting on the people that have inspired me and then vanished from my life. There is a gaping void that they once filled, and I rarely acknowledge it, but for once I shall.
Back in the early 1990s, bored out of my mind wandering through a bookshop in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, I came across my first copy of Interview magazine. I was later to discover that Interview was one of Andy Warhol’s many projects. Visual sucker that I am, I was obliged to invest some of my hard earned guilder in this stylish publication. Hidden within the folds lay a page that altered my view of art forever. Keith Haring, quirky as always, standing in front of his painted BMW. Until this point it hadn’t occurred to me that painted objects could move beyond the recycled, the spares, and the derelict objects that I normally used. Painting on objects had always been a directionless pastime with no real value. The idea that painting on an object could increase value rather than decrease it as I had been previously advised was a revelation. Ok, so I was pretty naïve, and the artwork on BMW project had been going for 15 years already, but it shook my little world.
The discovery of Keith Haring’s work was exciting and inspirational, a master at incorporating graphics, message and art, he taught me that art extends beyond the domain of gallery walls, that art can be an active part of community, and integrated into the outside world to be enjoyed and seen by everyone – whether they pay to go into a gallery or see it whizzing past with the stereo blaring.
The tragedy of this was his death from Aids related complications earlier that year. No sooner had I discovered this gem of an artist, than I was saying goodbye to an incredible talent. Learn more about Keith’s legacy here. To explore more of Keith’s art, visit the artsy site.
Years later, when I purchased my shiny new Yaris, I decided it was time to celebrate Keith, and put my art on my sleeve. Much to my family’s horror, out came the purple enamel paint, the finest brush I could find and a mahl stick. Three weeks later the purple beast emerged from the garage. She’s seen a few years since then, weathered the sun and faded a little, but the Ilia-mobile has survived the stares, beeping horns and pointing kidlets, so I hope in a way the legacy of Keith lives on and people have been able to share the fun of maintaining a little disrespect to retail values and being beige and sensible.
So what about the talented Steve – how does he fit into this story?
While on my second sojourn to Europe in the mid 90s my friend Stephen McKenny passed away from Aids related complications. Steve had been a close companion in my early artistic voyages for a number of years and his loss was monumental.
In our late teens, Steve and I had shared many hours in his studio/bedroom, he producing his experimental and ethereal music with his four-track and synthesiser and me scrawling in pastel and coloured pencil on the floor. I loved being a part of collaborative time based creative expression and hanging out with Steve provided a plethora of opportunities. But it went beyond musical/visual collaboration – it was also the discussions – the analysis of direction, form, potential, art and music. I was at that age where the world lay open for the plucking and anything seemed possible – with Steve’s genius beside me, the possibilities were infinite. Alas, university came, new friends popped up and our lives drifted their separate ways. Steve was always in my mind on many levels however, and I am thankful for him touching my life during his all too brief one.