Friday, September 8, 2017

Art in Transit

Keith Haring & Tseng Kwong Chi
Random House Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars

My Review

I left New York in 1976, so I never had the pleasure of seeing Keith Haring’s subway drawings.

As someone who was brought up never to deface public property, I have mixed feelings about graffiti art. The closest I’ve ever come to practicing the art form was the childish drawings I did on our apartment walls in colored pencils. As I got older, and graffiti proliferated on every public space in New York City, my dad always told me he’d break both my arms if he ever found out I was drawing or hanging out with kids who did.

So you can imagine how daring I felt when my best friend and I drew on buildings and sidewalks using colored chalk. Knowing the drawings would be washed away with the next rain kept me from feeling guilty about defacing public property. Our art was nowhere near as sophisticated as the colorful drawings made by experienced practitioners using spray paint, but I get why people enjoy doing it. It is a way to express oneself and prove our existence by leaving a mark.

I hated the scribbling, the crude stick figures, the hearts with initials inside. To me, that is graffiti vandalism. What I do enjoy is the colorful art that engages the viewer.

Keith Haring’s subway drawings were done in chalk on the empty black paper panels used for advertising. They were artistic, imaginative and confrontational. They had to be done quickly, as he faced fines and arrest if the transit police caught him.

The chalk drawings didn’t last very long, so Keith’s friend, Tseng Kwong Chi, volunteered to photograph the works.

One of my favorite drawings is next to the movie billboard advertising Amin: The Rise and Fall. The radiant babies drawn on the 1982 issue of Penthouse featuring Morgan Fairchild made me laugh.

While this is a wonderful documentation of Keith’s art, it also does a nice job capturing the diversity of the people who ride the subways and shows a glimpse of 80’s culture. I had forgotten how skanky the NYC subway system was in those days.

Sadly, Tseng Kwong Chi died of AIDS complications in 1990, just weeks after Keith did.

I’m glad this book exists.

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