The 9 keywords Keith Haring used to explain his art to Domus

Today the American art star, a human crossroad of pop, street art and transcontinental influences, would be 65. In 1983, Haring met Lisa Ponti in Milan, in an exchange encompassing the art of an entire era.

When the American street art wave swept through Italy in the early 1980s, Domus was not certainly missing from the scene. Rammelzee in Milan with Corrado Levi, Jean-Michel Basquiat talking with Lisa Ponti at Parco Sempione, and clearly Keith Haring. He collaborated with Fiorucci, intervened in Rome on the walls of Palazzo delle Esposizioni, and was exhibited amidst ever-increasing hype. Lisa Ponti met him in Milan as well, and through less than ten concepts managed to get him telling an entire story – his own – and, with that, the story of a unique season in contemporary art. This 9-keyword story would come out in December 1983, on Domus issue 645.

Domus 645, December 1983

Keith Haring

L.L.P: talking with Keith Haring in Milan, October 9, 1983.

Words, image
I think in some ways the idea of seeing and thinking about things can be altered by things like television, videotape, and satellite transmissions that have made the word sort of disseminated and broken up. Also William Burroughs said something when he was talking about the Cut Up: the future of writing is in space not time... A different way of thinking and understanding which is more like sort of going back to the way people thought about things in a more primitive time....

For a lot of people in the fifties, the act was the most important thing, in art... Pollock more than any other else sort of personified that idea, made it very real... One of the main parts of what I do is a performance element, in front of people, either in the subway or even now in the museums. It gives you another sense of awareness of the activity, of the necessity to be actually inside the painting when you make it. Something Jackson Pollock sort of did...

You can’t erase it
Because it is a performance and in the same time it is making a drawing, and there is no turning back once you start... It’s much more difficult than people think to control the spray can. It’s direct, from your mind to your hand. As with eastern calligraphy...

I saw a major retrospective of Alechinsky in Pittsburgh when I was 19. ...I was sort of working in a similar vein. To see someone that was fifty years old and had made hundreds and hundreds of paintings gave me confidence that I was on the right track. He also had gone to Japan and studied with Zen masters in temples...

The reason my things are more popular in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world I think that’s because Tokyo is the most space-age city in the world. In some ways I think that New York has still fresher ideas, but in Tokyo they take an idea and sort of refine it, and make it better... I saw more Mickey Mouse things in Tokyo... I have been not only imitated but also copied in Tokyo. Even when I was there people were doing graffiti chalk-drawings with my images on the sidewalk, all over Tokyo...

People like looking down from the airplane
I have used Sumi ink and brushes for a long time... I have worked on photographic backdrop paper, using it on the floor, it was 3,7 x 5,7 metres, so the act of drawing was almost like a dance. But I would like to do drawings like those found in Peru, which you can only see from a helicopter or from an airplane. I would like much to do them in an urban situation, to do drawings that you can see from the airplane near the airport, where there are planes landing every ten minutes...

Using a computer
In Tokyo I started using a computer and, with a computer, drawing computer graphics. Your head and your hand are completely disconnected. You push knobs... But what I would really like to do is a videogame also. Working with computers made me aware of how possible it was, and how perfect my images are for it. And also because of distribution, the way to get to teenagers... Videogame is completely accessible.

Completely accessible
Vivienne Westwood came to me about one year and a half ago and asked me if she could use some of my drawings for her clothes, and I looked at it as one separate project, because, I mean, my things are completely accessible to be on clothes... because one idea of the things in the subway was that they became accessible to every one, and it wasn’t really any elitist art. I would really like to make clothes in the future – I am approaching as carefully as possible – the kind of clothes Vivienne made but designing the colours and the scale of the images – I had nothing to do with that, actually even the same was with Malcolm’s record cover... If I do my own project it would be different.

American Artists
I guess, my favourite painter is Jean-Michel Basquiat, my friend Kenny Scharf, and Rammellzee... Rammellzee is more disconnected with galleries, I think he is much better off... There’s a lot of artists that are almost unknown in the art world. Chico, for instance, is maybe 19 or 20 years old but the East Village has maybe 20 or 30 of his huge paintings on sides of buildings... Lee (Quinones) a hero among graffiti writers, one of the things he does... the hand-ball courts, in his neighbourhood, very huge, 5×5, 6×6, are painted, incredibly, and only in his neighbourhood people know him. He has now started working with Barbara Gladstone a little bit. It’s good, because she doesn’t turn him to a sort of producing machine... Alot of people who are in unique situations have to be handled properly. I mean, the roles of the artists, especially now are changing more and more. I think they have to change, even more than they are now...

Opening image: Keith Haring at work in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, courtesy Nationaal Archief

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