Ben Anthony • Director de Keith Haring: Street Art Boy
"Keith Haring firmaba con imágenes, no con palabras"
por Marta Bałaga
- Hemos hablado con Ben Anthony, el director del documental Keith Haring: Street Art Boy, sobre la película y sobre un cierto diseño de papel de pintado para la cocina
Este artículo está disponible en inglés.
In Keith Haring: Street Art Boy [+lee también:
entrevista: Ben Anthony
ficha de la película], fresh off its showings at Sheffield Doc/Fest, Ben Anthony celebrates the life and the many, many works of American artist Keith Haring, who passed away in 1990 – instantly recognisable, even today. We talked to Anthony to delve deeper.
Cineuropa: In the case of Haring, you know the work, but you don’t necessarily know the man. At least I didn’t, not before watching your film.
Ben Anthony: Good! If I am honest, I didn’t know that much either. But I wanted to understand how he came up with all of these signature figures. When I was a teenager, it was a part of the cultural landscape. I never saw his public art, even though I knew about the “Crack Is Wack” mural, but his work was on the record covers I had or on my friends’ T-shirts. It was quite a nostalgic trip, to revisit a period when I was discovering a lot of things I love. I have so much affection for New York in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Keith Haring Foundation is based in his old studio; there are paint spatters on the floor, and they kept his sneakers, also covered in paint. It was a privilege to be in the middle of his world.
You mention nostalgia, but some aspects of his story couldn’t be timelier: like his fear of being accused of cultural appropriation.
It makes you wonder if he would be able to do this kind of work now. Was he trying to be something he wasn’t? Was he borrowing from people who were never given proper credit? Particularly in Australia, he had difficulties, and some people said: “Who is this white guy, coming from America and painting Aboriginal art?” I think he was just strikingly naïve about a lot of things. When he felt a kinship, he thought it entitled him to be a part of it. He was really preoccupied with social injustice, made thousands of posters for the “No Nuke” rally and just handed them out. It wasn’t a calculated pose to generate publicity. He knew where his heart was, and he used it as his guide. That extended to him, a kid from Pennsylvania, hanging around the hip-hop scene or graffiti artists. All it took was one look to realise he had no agenda to slyly steal anything.
In the film, someone mentions that he actually tried to stay respectful, and paint in different places. Do you agree with that?
Back then, there were graffiti wars going on! People would cross out names or paint over them, and he was very careful not to get involved. The reason why he gained acceptance, why artists like Fred Brathwaite, Lee Quiñones or Futura became his friends, was because he did something similar, but differently enough for it not to feel like he was claiming to be a part of their scene. Also, he was “tagging” with figures, rather than words. People became familiar with these pictures because they were all over subway stops, but for years, nobody knew who was behind them.
Now, artists collaborate with, say, Louis Vuitton, but even back then, he wasn’t afraid of the commercial. Why? Because he was operating outside of the gallery system anyway?
He was conflicted about it. He wanted to be accepted by the general public, but he also wanted respect. He used to get upset that galleries and museums overlooked him. Still, what he cared about the most was the democratisation of his work. Also because of the person he was – he wanted to be a part of people’s lives, on their T-shirts and pillowcases! There is so much footage of him just chatting to passers-by. He liked the connection and saw it as a way to spread love. Not necessarily to make money, which he was accused of. He had a huge collection of Polaroids, and that was the Instagram of the time – you could capture the moment and show it to everyone. This immediate gratification was a big part of what he enjoyed. Imagine now, if he had a smartphone.
When talking about someone who has died, people tend to be overly respectful. But here, you also have them mention his “penis wallpaper” in the kitchen!
I am not going to pretend it was hard – his friends were dying to tell me about the penis wallpaper, the amount of drugs they took and how promiscuous they were. You are right – when someone dies, there is this tendency to think it’s disrespectful to look at the trivial parts. But for them, it was a chance to be nostalgic about the time when they didn’t have a care in the world. When AIDS came, everything changed. Keith, even as he was painting his bathroom mural [“Once Upon a Time”, completed mere months before his death from AIDS], was longing for that, too. It’s an homage to the time when being gay in New York just meant wild abandon. He was never perceived as a heavyweight artist, one who has people standing in front of his giant paintings, stroking their chins. His friends knew he was all about expressing an immediate message and reflecting the joy of life. And a lot of it involved being silly.
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