The artistic testament of Keith Haring

by Marco Savio, 7 Aug 2018

When the professor called me from school, I was sure that Michele (i.e. my son) had made something against the poor Antonio. By now I no longer knew how to apologize. Once I had to spend a fortune to buy his favorite game and allow my son to apologize.
“Now another lecture awaits me” I thought approaching the school where both the professors of Italian and Art were waiting for me. Thinking well, the presence of the Art Professor was quite weird and he was the first one who started talking …

He said: “I encourage children to create and cultivate their dreams, but they should understand that respect for rules comes before everything.” School and family must unite their efforts to ensure that certain things do not happen anymore “.

While he was talking, I was thinking and finally understood what happened. That small drawing I had seen coming from “Via delle Ginestre” on the school wall had been made by Michele himself. Not a masterpiece, but a quick representation of a stylized little man raising his arms to the sky as a sign of victory.

“Art is for everyone. I want to work for this goal”

Coming back home, I stopped to look at it again. Oh yes, my little Michele needed a lesson. I decided to talk to him the following day at breakfast, before starting the day, in front of a nice cup of steaming milk. That day was Saturday and the train to Pisa left at 7.45. Michele pouted me all the way because of the early morning wake-up even on a holiday. I let him immerse in music with his headphones and looked out the window.
Letting me rock by the movements of the train, I got comfortable and let myself be dragged into memories of 1989.
At that time, I was a young man full of hope and desires. I was following the last year of the Academy of Fine Arts in Pisa when a friend told me “an American is coming, a certain Haring who will paint the wall of San Antonio”.

– “Ah yes, I’ve already heard about it. In New York he painted the subway stations … but is it legal? … I mean to paint the wall of the church? ”
– “Of course, Father Masetti and the Municipality have already approve it.”
– “Ah, well, then. Wait, what does he want from us? ”
– “No, nothing special, we just have to help him. Castellani asked me for it, that guy of the painting course.”

The train whistled and stopped. We had arrived.
The mural was just a few steps away, just beyond the oval of the ancient Roman amphitheater that stood in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II where several avenues and small streets converge, including the Via Riccardo Zandonai, home of the famous mural. The brown signs, typical of the elements of cultural interest, led us to the front of the church of San Antonio Abate.
Michele, finally, took off those huge colored headphones that covered his ears completely, turning him into a pseudo-android and, probably, he was amazed at the strange sounds of the reality that surrounded him.
– “See this is the historic façade as it was rebuilt after World War II following the original shapes of the ‘300, but the real new facade is here on the other side, come”
– “Wait, so the church has two facades?”
– “Well, the entrance is always on this side that is the main one, the other one is a bit different … definitely more lively”

We sat in the outdoor area that rose right in front of the mural. I needed a coffee to recover from the torpor of the train journey. In 1989, there was a Hotel, it was here that Keith stayed.

  • “This is a mural!”
  • “Yes, actually now we would call it “performance”! Keith Haring painted for 4 days with people passing by, listening to music, taking pictures, asking for autographs. Everyone was carefree, it seemed that the whole city was aware of the historical-artistic importance of the event. Haring wrote in his diary: “I think I’m happy only when I’m surrounded by all this crowd.”
  • “Here is the true sense of street art*, always being among people both at the moment of creation and throughout his life. It has a heterogeneous and always moving audience that must surprise but also accompany reflections or simply reassure with its orienting presence.”

*Read also: The Street is the biggest art gallery 

  • “What does it represent?”
  • “Look, look for the symbols, try to decipher them. In its center you can see the Pisa cross, but the painting speaks of the world, the present and the future of humanity in the eyes of a young artist of the ’80s that, in some ways, is still very current. “
  • “Does the snake represent evil? I see a woman with a child and then many colored figures. “
  • “Yes, to find those colors Keith turned two days for Pisa to observe and photograph the colors of the city”
  • “Wait a minute, but I’ve already seen these characters … but yes, they’re from Alex’s shirt.”
  • “Eh, in fact, Haring was really a POP artist*, he was the first to bring art not only in the streets walls but also around people. He opened a real mono-brand shops with all possible gadgets on which his drawings were reproduced. “

*Read also: My First Book

  • “But how was he?”
  • “For us, youngsters of the Academy, he immediately looked like a man of little health, so thin and white, a little balding and with that air of a nerd with round glasses.”

But our first impression was totally wrong, he was a source of vitality and creativity. He was drawing with incredible precision and security as if the whole project was in his head. No preparatory sketches, no visual idea, it was all a continuous becoming. The music of those years was the soundtrack for an artwork that continued at an ancestral rhythm. Incredibly, nobody knew exactly what would have to come out, but everyone knew exactly what to do. “

  • “Wow! It must have been cool to participate, I mean working like that all together. But did not they tell you stories? Nobody protested, after all it is always the wall of a church. “
  • “Five unforgettable days, a party continued to the rhythm of music while Keith painted fast and sure. He stopped only to give smiles and draw on the t-shirts of passers-by. Nobody could imagine that it would be his last great work. Nobody except himself. With the awareness of AIDS that was consuming it from within, he lived his last days with serenity and awareness of death”

“Many people in many ages lived only thirty or forty years. If I had been born in another place or another time, maybe I would have died in war or in another disaster. AIDS is the new plague. Why should I be exempt? Why not me? There is an illusion of security in the world in which we live. Because of medicine, science and economic security, we tend to believe that we are “safe”. But, I have to realize, we are no longer sure now of what it was in the seventeenth century. Nothing lasts forever. And nobody can escape death.”

“Haring, pursued a model of “art for everyone“, wishing to put his artworks at the disposal of the greatest possible audience; this was possible only by taking art out of museums and galleries, and ignoring the rules imposed by the market world.”


Michele and I got on the return train with a bit of melancholy. However, I was aware that I had taken a step forward in his training, maybe he had not fully learned the message of this trip, but something I had sown, I was proud and confident.

Closed the eyes, the train vibrations have always been an infallible sleeping pill. Michele, … Well he went back to the pseudo-android version with huge headphones and the cell phone that threw loud music all over the compartment.

The artist: Keith Haring

American artist of the twentieth century, inventor of single-brand artistic merchandising thanks to the opening of the first Pop Shop in New York.

Haring was able to push his youthful impulses towards a singular type of graphic expression based on the primacy of the line that contains simple figures and bright and flat colors.

In 1980 he noticed that the unused advertising panels inside the subway stations of New York were covered with opaque black paper. Black like a blackboard. Thus, using white chalk, he passed from one panel to another, from one station to another, drawing men that are crossing between the figures of rock carvings and those of cartoons. This uninterrupted flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often stopped to talk to the artist. The subway became, as Haring claimed, a “public laboratory”.

In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a shop in Soho with T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and magnets bearing his images. Haring had the desire to put his works at the disposal of the widest possible audience:

“It is becoming increasingly clear to me that art is not an elitist activity reserved for the appreciation of a few: art is for everyone and I want to work for this goal” Keith Haring

Tuttomondo (i.e. All-world)  (view on googlemaps) (source)

The Keith Haring Foundation:

  1. […] * Read also: The artistic testament of Keith Haring […]

  2. marlenkarletidou 5 months ago

    Thank you Marco Savio for sharing this nice story!

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