Everywhere I turn lately I am reminded of my friend Keith Haring in the best possible way. It has left me feeling sentimental, and surprisingly emotional considering this year marks the 20th anniversary of his untimely death. Then again, he was an extraordinary man, and I feel so blessed to have known him.
Keith’s journals have just been re-released with a new foreword by Shepard Fairey. It was only after reading his journals when they were first published, that I began to fully appreciate what an incredible human being (beyond just the talented, fun, thoughtful friend I knew) that Keith truly was. I am literally in awe. In his short 31 years, he managed to leave an indelible mark on the world. His art is still as recognizable and sought after by younger generations today, as it was a symbol of our own generation. More importantly, the causes he cared so deeply about are still being supported by the Keith Haring Foundation today. Now that is a man worth admiring tremendously.
This year has seen the renaming of the GMHC’s food pantry program in Keith’s honor and the opening of the Keith Haring ASC Harlem Center. Solo exhibitions have been scheduled in Vienna, Brazil, and Korea. There is the capsule footwear collection in collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger that I wrote about on my blog http://jeweslfromtherovingstove.blogspot.com, carrying on Keith’s controversial wish to make art affordable to the masses when he opened the Pop shop in the late 80’s, and just this week, my close family friends, Mary and John Pappajohn donated a 10 foot tall trio of Keith’s figures to the sculpture park they founded in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1982 I suddenly found myself thrust into a very glamorous world when I fell in love with Duran Duran keyboardist, Nick Rhodes and eventually married him. I was often insecure and uncomfortable in that world, never sure how sincere people really were. Keith was different from the rest.
We met at Andy’s Factory on a crisp, sunny September afternoon. Keith was so down to earth and unpretentious, unlike the rest of us, that I instinctively trusted him. We went to plenty of chic parties together, and danced most nights away at Palladium, Area, or some other hip club; but Keith was also the kind of friend that would dash uptown in the pouring rain during morning rush hour traffic when I needed consoling. He was “there” for his friends, offering inspiration by decorating the Paris studio my husband was recording in, and always attending my seemingly endless birthday parties.
Nick and I had amassed a large collection of Jean Cocteau drawings that for some reason I preferred to arrange differently against the outskirts of the living room walls each day. Then I would spend hours just sitting in the center of the room with them, as if they were companions. I was mortified when Keith showed up on our doorstep in Paris, and I hadn’t hung anything yet. Typical Keith, he intuitively put my embarrassment to rest when the first words out of his mouth were “I LOVE that you have kept the walls clean!” He even sat in the middle of the floor with me, appreciating the drawings scattered about.
On another occasion, I whispered to Keith how out of my depth I felt in my lack of knowledge about the art world as we sat surrounded by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, and Julian Schnabel one evening at Mr. Chow’s in New York. He looked at me, and genuinely said “that is exactly why I find it so refreshing to be with you”, easing my anxiety, and encouraging me to just be myself, because myself was enough.
For a couple years I had heard rumors that Keith was sick, but when I would ask, he always reassured me, “I’m fine”. It was a Dali-esque moment, sitting on our bed in London, when Nick read the article in Rolling Stone magazine aloud. Keith went public that he was indeed sick with full-blown AIDS. When Nick finished, I only had to look at him before he said, “I know… you want to go to New York.” I was on the next Concorde out.
That last time I saw Keith, we sat up all night long laughing, crying, and everything in between. It was the first time I faced the impending loss of someone I loved head-on, and I was so grateful for the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to me face to face. He taught me more about appreciating every moment of life in that one evening than an entire lifetime might have taught me otherwise. The world is better place, because he once inhabited it, and he is still making it a better place.