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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 30th September 2016 > GO FIGURE


A mural by Keith Haring would be worth saving. You’d think


OFF THE WALL: Haring–here painting a backdrop for the Palladium Club—was the archetypal underground artist of 1980s New York.

KEITH HARING was used to making art quickly. In the early 1980s, he would ride the New York City subway, scouting out empty ad sites covered with sheets of black paper. He would then saunter up, check there were no cops around, whip out a piece of white chalk from his pocket and, as passers-by stopped to watch, populate the paper with cartoonlike fi gures. Aboveground, his work was displayed in respected galleries. Below, he was sometimes arrested.

One Saturday evening, most likely in 1984, Haring walked into Grace House, an unremarkable five-story building on West 108th Street. Thin and bespectacled, he was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and paint-spattered shoes, and carrying a thick brush and a coffee can filled with black paint.

Haring started at the bottom of the stairs and wound his way up to the third floor, painting black outlines of fi gures walking, running, jumping, embracing—limbs askew and vibrating with curved echo lines that gave the walls a feeling of constant motion. Within an hour, he’d covered the walls in the stairwell and lobby of the building, then a youth center run by the Catholic Youth Organization. Dozens of teenagers were taking part in a weekend leadership retreat, and many trickled into the halls to watch. “I think it took about 40 minutes. It was so fast…and there was no sketch. It just flowed out of him,” says Gary Mallon, who was then the director of Grace House. “He would paint them as he was moving. It was coming out of his head through the brush and onto the wall.”

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