Dear Friends

TIME Magazine – yes TIME has published an editorial – an editorial I encourage all of you to read. It is possible, if not removed from office, Donald Trump might decide the “rule of law”, from which he claims exemption, will not rule. He may “decide” to remain in office.

We need to back all elected officials and future elected officials who pledge to remove this cancer from office. We are not in a struggle between right and left, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, educated and less educated etc. We are in a struggle for the future of our Republic. Let’s separate from our personal tastes and needs and work together to save our country from falling into the abyss of dictatorship. Let’s vote for our choice candidates for everything so long as they support the rule of law. Trump must go if we are to save the nation. Tell your favorite candidates that if they do not support his expulsion you will withhold your vote – if indeed – there is a vote.

Asher Edelman


The Impeachment Inquiry Is About More Than Donald Trump — It’s About Who We Are as Americans

by Jon Meacham, TIME
November 7, 2019

Nearly half a century after Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic Democracy in America, another European observer crossed the Atlantic to assess the state of the American experiment.

James Bryce, the English historian and statesman, arrived in America for an extended tour in the middle of the 1880s, at a time not unlike our own. It was the height of the Gilded Age, and the country was grappling with inequalities of wealth, rising levels of immigration, rapid economic transition and questions about the United States’ role in the world. An astute chronicler–he was a practicing politician, a venerable professor of civil law at Oxford, and would later serve as the British ambassador to the U.S.–Bryce published his reflections in a two-volume work, The American Commonwealth.

Among his insights was a warning of the dangers of a renegade President. To Bryce, the real threat to the Constitution came as much from the people as from the White House. Disaster would strike American democracy, Bryce believed, at the hands of a demagogic President with an enthusiastic public base. “A bold President who knew himself to be supported by a majority in the country, might be tempted to override the law,” Bryce wrote. “He might be a tyrant, not against the masses, but with the masses.”

Now, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, Bryce’s prophecy has come true. This is not hyperbole. The rise of Donald Trump, and the reflexive resilience of his public support, has produced a singular American moment. The start of public impeachment hearings in Congress on Nov. 13 marks the beginning of a test for the country. As the debate over impeachment and removal unfolds, the nation’s immediate and long-term future depends on whether Americans will be guided by reason rather than passion, fact rather than faith, evidence rather than tribe.

And the facts keep piling up. The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, has now revised his congressional testimony to say that he was involved with a quid pro quo regarding Ukraine: the nation was to publicly announce an investigation into the family of Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, or the U.S. would hold up congressionally appropriated military aid. Other previously closed transcripts from key players are emerging, and even those who have refused to testify have shed light on the Administration’s dealings. Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff who has so far refused to answer a congressional subpoena, has already publicly framed perhaps the largest question of the moment when he told reporters that they should “get over” the Administration’s pressuring Ukraine. Mulvaney later tried to walk back these remarks, but the initial comments had all the hallmarks of the Trumpian vision of the world: do what you want, and dare anyone to do anything about it.

Here we are, then, trapped in a time of demagoguery, reflexive partisanship and a Hobbesian world of constant and total political warfare. We know all the factors: the return of the kind of partisan media that shaped us in the 18th and 19th centuries; relentless gerrymandering that has produced few swing congressional districts; the allure of reality-TV programming that has blurred lines between entertainment and governance.

So what to do? A grasp of the past can be orienting. “When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea,” Daniel Webster said, “he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course.” The fate of this presidency, of the ensuing elections and of our true course lies in two sets of hands. The first is the House and the Senate, the second the electorate that will determine the outcome of the 2020 campaign. The past and the present tell us that a demagogue can thrive only when a substantial portion of the demos–the people–want him to.

A tragic element of history is that every advance must contend with forces of reaction. In the years after Abraham Lincoln, the America that emancipated its enslaved population endured Reconstruction and a century of institutionalized white supremacy. Under Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the America that was rapidly industrializing and embracing many progressive reforms was plagued by theories of racial superiority and fears of the “other” that kept us from acting on the implications of the promise of the country. In the age of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the America that rescued capitalism, redefined the role of the state to lift up the weakest among us, and defeated fascism fell victim to racial hysteria and interned innocent Americans of Japanese descent. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower played critical roles in building an America of broadening wealth, and there was incremental progress on civil rights, in roughly the same years the country was roiled by McCarthyism and right-wing conspiracy theories. And the age of Barack Obama gave way to the age of the incumbent.

The only way to make sense of this eternal struggle is to understand that it is just that: an eternal struggle. We are now grappling with a new chapter in that struggle, one that includes the salience of the Constitution, the sovereignty of our elections and the possible impeachment of a President. At the Constitutional Convention, George Mason of Virginia asked, “Shall any man be above justice? Above all, shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice?” The answer was no; no man shall be above justice. What will determine that?

We will–We the People. The people matter, for politicians are far more often mirrors of who we are rather than molders. And we are all on trial. In his speech at American University in June 1963 proposing a ban on nuclear testing, President John F. Kennedy said, “Man can be as big as he wants.”

Or as small. The risk we face often grows out of the anger of crowds–literal and, now, also virtual–of the alienated and the emboldened. The better Presidents, the better citizens, do not cater to such forces; they conquer them with a breadth of vision that speaks to the best parts of our soul.

Divisions of opinion are inherent to democracy. There was never a once-upon-a-time in American life, and there will never be a happily-ever-after. The world doesn’t work that way. Andrew Johnson survived impeachment; Richard Nixon’s support held until the very last moment of Watergate; Joe McCarthy’s red-baiting reign lasted not a season or a single cycle but four long years–and even when he’d fallen into disgrace, 34% of the country still supported him.

The cheering news is that hope is not lost. “The people have often made mistakes,” Truman said, “but given time and the facts, they will make the corrections.” This isn’t a Republican point or a Democratic point. It’s not a red point or a blue point. It’s just a true point, drawn from any fair-minded reading of the American experience. Think about it: we honor liberators, not captors. From Seneca Falls to Fort Sumter; from Omaha Beach to the Edmund Pettus Bridge; from Soviet-occupied Berlin to Stonewall, Americans have sought to perfect our union and to nudge the world toward an ethos of liberty rather than tyranny.

It’s true, of course, that at times of heightened conflict, those motivated by what they see as extremism on the other side are likely to see politics not as a mediation of difference but as existential warfare in which no quarter can be given. The country has worked best, however, when we’ve resisted such impulses. Eleanor Roosevelt offered a prescription to guard against tribal self-certitude. “It is not only important but mentally invigorating to discuss political matters with people whose opinions differ radically from one’s own,” she wrote. “For the same reason, I believe it is a sound idea to attend not only the meetings of one’s own party but of the opposition. Find out what people are saying, what they are thinking, what they believe. This is an invaluable check on one’s own ideas … If we are to cope intelligently with a changing world, we must be flexible and willing to relinquish opinions that no longer have any bearing on existing conditions.” If Mrs. Roosevelt were writing today, she might put it this way: don’t let any single cable network or Twitter feed tell you what to think.

Wisdom generally comes from a free exchange of ideas and an acknowledgment that your team might be wrong and the other team might be right. To reflexively resist one side or the other without weighing the merits of a given issue is all too common–and all too regrettable. To elect to be impervious to argument is to pre-emptively surrender the capacity of reason to guide us in our public lives. Of course, it may be that you believe, after consideration, that the other side is wrong–but at least take a minute to make sure.

History may well turn on what happens in that minute. In that minute we might truly consider what this witness or that transcript is truly telling us. In that minute we might truly begin to see events in a different light. In that minute we might truly rethink our predispositions and, with Mrs. Roosevelt, arrive at a conclusion that requires us to relinquish an opinion we believed unassailable. That’s one of the reasons “hearings” are called “hearings.” We’d do well to remember that in the coming weeks and months.

In The American Commonwealth, James Bryce included a chapter titled “Why Great Men Are Not Chosen Presidents.” He was writing in an especially unremarkable era for the American presidency, the age of Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland and Harrison. The future proved Bryce wrong here; the ensuing century gave us both Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan. “We the People” rose to the occasion and made good and important decisions. Now we face the test anew.

Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, is the author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels


Asher Edelman | Fox News Interview

Dear Friends,

For those of you who missed my visit to Fox News last night and would like to view it, please click the video below. The panel seems to have created some level of controversy so I have attached the twitter comments from Trump fans. Happily comments from my fans were kinder.


Asher Edelman | Fox

P.S. Donald Trump has just deeded over a substantial portion of Kurdish (our allies who rid the world until now of ISIS) properties to Turkey and Russia. At least North Korea was not given a stake.





Calling All Whistleblowers


Dear Friends,

Yesterday Donald Trump declared he will not cooperate or, in fact, have anything to do with his impeachment inquiry, a clear indication that the “rule of law” in our country is no longer of interest to the Trump camp. Will it be the same if we go to the 2020 election and he declares elections are not to his liking? Will, should there be an election that he loses, he declare that it is a fake election and he will simply remain as President? When a populist stands against the rule of law it is probable he will breech others and, eventually, all!

Sadly, the Vice President and the cabinet do not have the fortitude to admit that Trump is unfit to serve as President. He is unfit! Those in his party who pretend to care about democracy, deficits, defense, the economy, the respect America has maintained in the World since the Second World War, decency, etc etc etc – cower before Trump’s megalomaniac behavior.

What can we do? We can be rational, careful, accurate, specific and target Mr. Trump in a way that his supporters will recognize the risks they are taking for the country and for their own future well being. The current cause will not achieve this goal. The Ukraine is not of much interest to anyone, let alone Trump supporters. We need more. We need to expose all of the illegal acts of the President and his coterie, not only the Ukraine foray. We need more whistleblowers. Calling all whistleblowers! I will provide some whistles to follow. Let the House know what you know, let the press know what you know, let the populace know what you know.


  • Stock Market manipulation paid for with taxpayer funds and providing inside information to certain Trump supporting institutions.


  • Tax fraud and money laundering.


  • Putin Trump calls and meetings of the past years.


  • Financing from the Saudi contingent et al to Javanka and other Trump coterie.


  • Secret arrangements with Israel to prompt a war with Iran.


  • Payoffs to the ladies and perjury.


  • Trump and Javanka projects benefiting from foreign and domestic sources who receive Trumpblessings. Scottish golf course for U.S. Military visits.


  • Nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.


  • Military defense funds not so allocated to build the “Wall”


The list goes on and on whistle blowers. Please help your country and tell us what you know. It may be your last chance to save democracy, as we knew it pre-Trump.

Thank you, whistleblowers.


Asher Edelman


Liquidity Crisis

CC China.jpg
Dear Friends,
It has been a while since I’ve had much to say about the Trump administration activities. Most has been covered by the press – both left and right. However, today, a new wrinkle, a possible devastating blow to the already shaky economy. The Trump court is considering prohibiting American investment in China – later the rest of the world? If this were to happen (a form of currency controls) one could imagine China cashing in the balance of its lending to the United States, the number now exceeding $1.0 trillion. Should that even be a short-term threat the repo market and all other markets will crash. The mere concept will impair liquidity in our economy in the coming weeks. Yes, Trump can then sanction China and not allow its debt to be redeemed. Imagine the then blow to the U.S. and the world economies. A loss of confidence in the U.S. having its debt, combined with unimaginable government spending and deficits would be a world we cannot now imagine.
Be you to the right or left, encourage your representatives in government to stop this folly.
Asher Edelman

‘The public has a right to art’: the radical joy of Keith Haring

Keith Haring, Untitled, 5 march 1984, high res.JPG

KEITH HARING UNTITLED (MARCH 5, 1984), 1984. Sumi ink on paper, 34 x 48 in (86.4 x 122 cm)
Price on request

Though he died in 1990, in many ways Keith Haring is still alive. His art is everywhere. There are Haring T-shirts, Haring shoes, Haring chairs. You can buy Haring baseball hats and badges and baby-carriers and playing cards and stickers and keyrings.
Keith Haring’s work pops up all over the place – his radiant baby, the barking dog, the dancer, the three-eyed smiling face. Simple, cheerful, upbeat, instantly recognizable. They make you smile and they work like graffiti tags, small signifiers that say “Keith woz here”. But Haring did much more than provide cute cartoons. He was publicly minded. His art faced outwards. He wanted to inform, to start a conversation, to question authority and convention, to represent the oppressed. Those cute figures are political.
“Although his imagery is ubiquitous, he’s actually an artist that has been overlooked,” says Darren Pih, co-curator of this month’s major Keith Haring exhibition at Tate Liverpool. “People forget that back in the 1980s, he was talking about socially important issues: apartheid, Aids, environmentalism, how capitalism increases inequality – and he was using very accessible language.”
Sometimes that language was direct, as in his Crack Is Wack mural (on 128th Street in New York), or the hundreds of specially designed posters he gave out at anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid rallies. Sometimes it was subtler: some of his later works, when he knew he was dying, featured broken birds, daggers, nails, nooses, blood. Always, it was attractive, with an exuberance and joy that spoke to people of all ages, all backgrounds. That universal quality draws us to Haring’s work – but can lead some to think that his art is superficial, and easy to achieve. It isn’t.
“His line was astonishing,” says artist Kenny Scharf, Haring’s contemporary and friend, of the way Haring drew. “Keith was totally confident, that’s one of the reasons why his art is so strong: the confidence in his line, the conviction, everything about it.”
“He was unique,” says Mare169, real name Carlos Rodriguez, a graffiti artist who worked with Haring in the 1980s. “The vernacular of his art was so appealing, with a quality of entertainment. But it was also a tremendous, beautiful response to the activism of the time… the really unusual thing about Keith is that he felt he could be of service.”
Haring lived and worked in New York from 1978 until his death, aged 31, from an Aids-related illness. In his final few years, he was invited all over the world to make work, and if you want to see some real-life Keith Haring art, you still can. There is a mural in Pisa, on the side of the church of Sant’Antonio, which he made in the last year of his life. There is one at the Carmine public swimming pool on Clarkson Street in Greenwich Village, New York, painted by Haring in one day in 1987. There is public work by Haring in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Antwerp, Berlin, Paris, Melbourne; on hospitals, at schools (often made with children), in an LGBT community services centre.
Haring Fertility Series.jpeg

KEITH HARING FERTILITY SERIES, 1993, Edition of 100. Fluorescent silkscreen on paper
Set of 5 prints, 42 x 50 in (each) (106.7 x 127 cm)

Up until 2005, there was his Pop Shop on Lafayette Street in downtown New York. I went there in the 1990s, and it was an all-encompassing experience. The shop was tiny, with white walls and floor covered in Haring’s art. There was music playing and T-shirts hung up. It was playful and fun, with a club vibe. I bought two badges.
His work is timeless, but it is rooted in its time. The Reaganite 1980s have parallels with today, with an anti-immigration, anti-union, pro-guns, anti-abortion, go-USA “entertainer” president in the White House. Back then, young artists reacted, shaking up the art establishment. A new post-Warhol crew that included Haring, Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat suddenly emerged, making work that referenced what was around them: clubbing, rap, street art, television, high and low culture. They grabbed attention, shows and sales.
But art institutions, especially museums, didn’t know how to react to these upstarts and their work. Neither did critics: some were supportive, many were snide (Time’s Robert Hughes caricatured Haring as “Keith Boring”). There was a sense among the stuffy that these young artists were not to be taken seriously, and Haring’s likable painting style meant that his art, though loved by the public, was not “high” enough for the elite. Plus, he collaborated with others too often; he was too commercial; he would keep banging on about politics and safe sex.
Today, though, Haring paintings sell for millions. In 2016, Sotheby’s sold four Haring canvases, including the wonderful The Last Rainforest, which he painted in 1989 when he knew he was dying. The sale price was over £4m.
And there’s a renewed interest in the artistic era in which Haring operated – that collaborative time in New York where pop and rap and art met and mixed, a time that started in the mid-to-late 70s and ended, in essence, with a trio of deaths: first Warhol in 1987, then Basquiat in 1988 and finally, Haring, in February 1990. Last year, the Beastie Boys, native New Yorkers, used their vastly entertaining memoir to paint a seductive picture of growing up during that era. In 2017, there was a huge and highly successful Basquiat exhibition, in London; around the same time, MoMA in New York put on a show based around Club 57, a small nightclub where artists and musicians and performers would hang out in the late 70s and early 80s. The time in which these artists lived and worked seems so near, and yet so far away. New York was still New York, but grubby, dangerous, abandoned, cheap. Fertile, angry, full of possibilities.
Keith Haring was born in May 1958. He grew up in a conventional family, led by a respectable man, in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. His dad, Allen, was a church-going, Nixon-supporting Republican, who drew cartoons in his spare time and encouraged his son to do the same. The Harings were loving, but Keith had a strong sense that he was different. In his teenage years, he turned first to church, becoming what he would later call a “Jesus freak”, and then, an acid-dropping (Grateful) Deadhead and occasional runaway (he went to Jersey Shore for a summer when he was 17, against his parents’ wishes).
After graduating from high school, he enrolled in a Pittsburgh college for illustrators, but found it too limiting. He dropped out and hitchhiked across America with his girlfriend, funding the trip by selling his drawings. Soon after their return, his girlfriend said she was pregnant. Haring had just started sleeping with men. He knew he had to leave. “New York was the only place to go,” he said later. He applied and got into the School of Visual Arts, on East 23rd Street. Other students included Samantha McEwen and Kenny Scharf.
At their very first lesson, a drawing class, remembers McEwen, Haring “dragged his chair all the way across the room” to sit opposite her, so that he could draw her, and her him. She thinks it was because she looked different to the other class members, because she was English, with mad curly hair, dressed in secondhand clothes. They had an instant rapport, she recalls. “He was so charming and engaged. He really listened.”
Haring single print.jpg

KEITH HARING Fertility Series, 1983, Single print, Edition of 100
Fluorescent silkscreen on paper, 107 x 127 cm (42 x 50 in)

Unlike most 20-year-olds, Haring was clearheaded and motivated; he knew what he wanted to do and he used his time well. “He would move into whatever space that was available,” says McEwen.
Scharf recalls that Haring “always took the initiative, he located any avenues that were available in a smart way. He really had it together.”
When he spotted an unused room in SVA, Haring found some three-metre wide paper, put it on the floor of the room, where it fitted exactly, and started painting in there. He brought in his tape player and painted to Devo, timing the brush-strokes to the music, stopping when the track stopped. Scharf met him for the first time here, as Haring was literally painting himself into a corner.
“A lot of other artists were jealous, like: ‘Oh, you get to do this room just for yourself, how come you get to do that?'” remembers Scharf. “And it was like: ‘Well, you didn’t ask!'” The outgoing, charismatic Scharf was already known for dragging in debris off the streets into SVA to glue together and paint. He and Haring became instant friends.
Haring was warm and open, but focused – “always learning” says McEwen – and more opinionated than most of his contemporaries. A compulsive diarist – he believed recording his work was part of his practice – Haring wrote later that he came to SVA “prepared to aggressively get things from the school, instead of expecting the school to give them to me”. He hung the Devo paintings on the college walls without permission, and from that, got himself an exhibition.
Though Haring was confident in his drawing, he was also interested in words, and experimented a lot with poems, as well as new technology like Xerox and video cameras. Some of his first New York works were cut-ups of tabloid covers (“Ronald Reagan Accused of TV Star Death”), and when, at a Canal Street sign shop, he found a bag of 13 letters, he used them to make a sort of restricted poetry: “art art boys sin as if no if no art lick fat boys”. He used them as the basis of videos, created Xeroxed, Warhol-esque posters and would read the “art boys” poems at Club 57. For a while, in 1979, he wore a black beret and called himself a terrorist poet.
The then new Club 57 was in a Polish church at 57 St Mark’s Place. Haring, Scharf and another SVA student called John Sex stumbled across it by mistake; they liked the jukebox and put a track on. Ann Magnuson, who ran the club, came out from behind the bar and started go-go dancing with them. Magnuson got her new friends to do one-night art shows at the club, “and it kept tumbling like that”, says Scharf. “Every night, performances, art shows, happenings.” Unlike the well-established punk venue CBGB, or the Mudd Club, both of which were cool (“heroin-y”), or the high-end celeb-station that was Studio 54, Club 57 was small, silly – “uncool,” says McEwen – and very sexually free. Everyone was sleeping with everyone else. The chosen drugs were booze and hallucinogens. Haring loved Club 57’s attitude, which was less nightclub and more playroom: he staged spontaneous art shows, read his poems, joined in with big Twister parties. He did performances with a TV on his head, speaking through the screen.
Haring was interested in art that talked to people. After just one month at SVA, he wrote a manifesto-cum-self-definition that included the words: “The public has a right to art/The public is being ignored by most contemporary artists/Art is for everybody.” As far as Haring was concerned, it was the viewer that created the meaning and reality of the artwork. So he wanted to gain as many viewers as possible. (“As graffiti artists say,” says Rodriguez, “he wanted eyeballs.”)
McEwen remembers him painting abstract images on the ground in the loading bay of SVA. Lots of passersby stopped to talk, to tell him what they thought. “One would say it reminded them of fighting in world war two, another said they could see animals in there,” she says. “He thrived on that interaction and I think it pushed him to take his art out on to the streets.”
She also recalls Haring’s show at an abandoned school turned DIY art venue, PS122, in 1980. He had turned from poetry back to art, and at the show, he debuted the style that became his signature. He drew pictures of flying saucers shooting out light-rays, of penises being worshipped by crowds of people, of a baby that shone like a star. “It was so arresting,” she said. “Immediate.”
Street art was flourishing in New York. Tagging and graffiti art was part of the emerging hip-hop scene, which was mostly based uptown, in Harlem and the Bronx, but moved to the Lower East Side once rappers and taggers like Fab Five Freddy started mingling with downtown artists. Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose own SAMO tag began as a sort of on-wall manifesto poetry, wasn’t a student at SVA, but would visit the college, invited by Scharf.
Though Haring, Basquiat and Scharf were very different artists, all three were interested in making work outside galleries. Haring started tagging – he drew his tag, the radiant baby, next to existing graffiti, never over the top – and Basquiat was already doing so. All three were also interested in the risk and magic of making work without preparatory drawings, and Haring was the king of this. Lenore and Herb Schorr, collectors of both Basquiat and Haring, recall his ability to fill whatever space he needed to.
“He was a phenomenon,” says Lenore. “He would just get up in front of a wall and right from his head, no drawing, he would start working. It was unreal, his understanding. He saw the space and he filled it and it was beautiful and it was balanced, it had a rhythm.”
“It was more than that,” says Tony Shafrazi, who became Haring’s dealer. Being out and about drawing on walls led Haring to look at the streets differently. He noticed the small advertising spaces at subway stations. Whenever an old advert was removed, but before the new one was put up, the space was covered in black paper. Haring decided to draw on these blank canvases in chalk.
Haring silence
“He was unbelievably quick,” says Shafrazi. “I went with him on a couple of the trips and he would spot a space, dart out and it would be done in minutes. He would go up one line, come back down; he went all over Manhattan like that, covering the place.”
An SVA friend, the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, would come by a few hours later and take pictures of the chalk drawings before they were covered over or stolen.
Haring was arrested a few times for this, but it just added to the street glamour (CBS’s Sunday Morning did a piece on him, complete with convenient cop handcuffing him). People would stop and chat to him while he drew, and he made badges and handed them out. Robin Williams had one. So did Diane Keaton.
At that time, Scharf and Haring shared an apartment, a huge two-storey loft near Bryant Park, filled with both of their work. But it quickly became tricky for Scharf, because Keith’s work was becoming popular. Collectors came up to their apartment to buy a Haring and walked straight past Scharf’s work. “It caused Kenny a lot of angst,” remembers McEwen.
“We all had ambitions of moving up, getting a bigger audience and money,” says Scharf, “but when it happens, things change. It isn’t so fun and simple as it was when we were each other’s audience. There’s other people’s take on you, you’re taken more seriously, then they’re more critical, then there’s jealousy. Before, you had a focal point of getting out there and creating, and then all of a sudden you have to deal with this machine that you wanted to be involved in, but that you didn’t know anything about.” Soon after, Haring decided he needed a dealer, and chose Shafrazi.
In 1981, Haring moved in with McEwen, into her Broome Street railroad apartment, where there was no corridor, and each room led into another. At the start, McEwen’s rooms were the kitchen and a bedroom, but that changed when Keith became romantically involved with a DJ called Juan Dubose, “and it became clear that Juan needed access to the kitchen,” says McEwen.
Juan’s contribution is underestimated,” she says. “He did all the cooking for Keith, he sort of kept house so that Keith could work.” With Dubose moving in, McEwen swapped rooms, but then she had to walk through Haring and Dubose’s bedroom to get to the kitchen. So Haring bought a tent. “Just a perfect-sized tent that was his and Juan’s bed,” says McEwen. “I came back one day and there it was. With the TV right up against the door to the tent so they could watch it.”
Though neither was completely monogamous, Haring and Dubose were together for several years. They loved to dance, and became regulars at the Paradise Garage, where Larry Levan DJed. Haring adored the exhilaration and community at the club: when he became successful and had to travel around the world for his work, he would organise his schedule so that he would leave straight after a Saturday night at the Garage or return just before, “so that I didn’t miss any of my Garage time”. Dancing was immensely important to him, as were the “cute boys” of the Garage, who were mostly black and Latino. Haring was attracted to non-white men. “I’m sure inside I’m not white,” he once wrote.
In 1982, Shafrazi put on a solo Haring show. It was a huge success. Important art collectors mingled with Haring’s downtown friends, plus graffiti artists and hip-hop DJs. From there, things really took off. Haring met Warhol and they became close. He went for dinner at Yoko Ono’s, he hung out with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, William Burroughs, Robert Mapplethorpe. He already knew Madonna, from clubbing at Danceteria. He went to her wedding, and took Warhol as his guest.
By 1984, Haring couldn’t do the subway paintings any more, because people were stealing them as soon as they were up and putting them up for sale. Fake Harings started springing up; his style was much imitated, especially in Japan. In 1986, he set up his Pop Shop on Lafayette Street. He wanted the public to be able to access his real work, not just those with enough money to be able to buy one of his paintings. Popular culture accepted his art long before the establishment did. For Haring, the Pop Shop “was the ultimate in cutting them [the art establishment] out of the picture”.
Scharf remembers this. “Keith was crucified for it,” he says. “The art world likes to think: ‘Oh, if you’re doing things in a mass commercial way, you’re dumbing it down for the masses.’ Well, no. We’re not dumbing things down, we’re bringing people up. But the art world doesn’t want to see people coming up.”
Haring and andy
Haring often spoke eloquently about the notion of “selling out”. He turned down many offers of lucrative work: to license his art in Tokyo, to run a Macy’s boutique, to paint a Hall & Oates album cover, to advertise Kraft cheese and Dodge trucks. He accepted some, like Swatch and Absolut: those that offered a challenge. “Ever since there have been people waiting to buy things, I’ve known that if I wanted to make things people would want, I could do it easily,” he said. “As soon as you let that affect you, you’ve lost everything.”
And he continued to work with graffiti artists, though he only went out tagging with them once; he felt stupid as the older white guy, like a chaperone. He didn’t call himself a graffiti artist – in an Interview piece, he described what he did as drawing, rather than graffiti – but the media didn’t listen. He talked to Rodriguez about it. “Keith and I often discussed this,” he says. “I would say to him, You’re not a graffiti artist. And he would say: ‘Oh, it’s the media, it’s how they write it.’ But we both knew that he was playing along with it, because it helped give rise to his success. The thing that people don’t know is that his success also elevated us as well. There was this mutual understanding and agreement that he was really making headway for a lot of people. He was making street art acceptable.”
Dancer Bill T Jones believes that Keith tried to raise consciousness in general. “Everyone knew his sexuality, he was very out, which was important,” he says. “And he would try and represent the young, underserved black and brown people of the streets, like the Central Park Five. The art world claimed to not know about such things – and its passivity, its silence was political – but because of the people he associated with, Keith was pulled into these issues.”
Jones worked with Haring on a number of occasions, including in the UK in 1983. For a show at the Robert Fraser gallery, Haring decided he would paint Jones’s naked body and have Tseng take photographs. The painting took four-and-a-half hours, and when he was done, the press were invited in to do interviews. Jones remembers the whole event with affection, calling it both “innocent” and “brazen”. “That body-painting gave me power,” he says. “It made one feel transformed, into a heightened consciousness, a special status, I was a moving sculpture.” After this, Haring painted Grace Jones.
Haring’s horizons were expanding. He painted on the Berlin Wall, he worked with MTV. He was immensely popular: in 1986, he was the subject of more than 100 newspaper articles. But in the mid-1980s, as he was flying high with his career, back in New York, the carefree environment began to change.
Aids swept through New York like a fire, “like world war two,” recalls Jones, whose dance and life partner Arnie Zane died of Aids-related lymphoma in 1988. “An entire generation was killed, it decimated a whole class of persons, the homosexual, creative people.”
McEwen got pregnant around this time and was required to take an HIV test. She had to take her blood sample to an abandoned car park, to a box-like structure that was set up away from people, and post the sample through a slot. Everyone was petrified of catching this new and terrible disease; no one knew quite how it was spreading. But spreading it was, and people were dying.
“People got sick and they’d die in two weeks,” says Scharf. “Recently, I went to a friend’s photography show and looked at a photo of us all, and everyone is no longer here and they’ve been gone 30 years.”
“You had a kid, and you’d look around for who could be godfather,” says McEwen, “and there was nobody left.”
Haring knew he was at risk – Dubose had been diagnosed HIV-positive. His friends were dying, including Bobby Breslau, a mentor who worked at Pop Shop. Haring was badly affected by Bobby’s suffering, but was accepting of his own fate. He wrote about the possibility in his journals in March 1987.
“I am quite aware that I have or will have Aids,” he wrote. “The symptoms already exist… my days are numbered. Important to do as much as possible as quickly as possible. WORK IS ALL I HAVE AND ART IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN LIFE. I always knew, since I was young, that I would die young, But I thought it would be FAST (an accident), not a disease… time will tell but I am not scared. I live every day as if it were the last. I LOVE LIFE. I love babies and children and some people, most people, well maybe not most. But a lot of people…”
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In 1989, the year before his death, Haring did four shows. He set up the Keith Haring Foundation, which still exists today, working to support underprivileged children and HIV charities. And he did an interview withRolling Stone.
He said: “No matter how long you work, it’s always going to end sometime. And there’s always going to be things left undone… part of the reason that I’m not having trouble facing the reality of death is that it’s not a limitation, in a way. It could have happened any time, and it is going to happen sometime. If you live your life according to that, death is irrelevant. Everything I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to do.”
Haring worked right up until two months before he died. Scharf was at his side when he was very ill. Haring was agitated, twitchy, with his eyes shut, and Scharf held him. “I said: ‘You can relax. Everything you’ve done is going to keep going. You’re going to continue.’ And I felt him relax. I meant it. He started something really big, and I will always honour his legacy.”
Haring died on 16 February 1990. During his lifetime, he had almost 50 one-man shows. He painted 45 murals. Since his death, his foundation has supported hundreds of youth, community, art, LBGT, safe sex and planned-parenthood projects. His work is held by MoMA, the Whitney, the LA County Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. And many, many people own a Keith Haring badge.