Haringís NYC studio: 676 Broadway, 6/18/86, 1-2 p.m. Third meeting with Keith to discuss conception and process for collaborative project. Speakers: Keith, Art.
Art: Ah, what thoughts do you have?
Keith: I donít know... I donít even know how much time Iím going to have in Europe to write.
Art: OK, so whatís a way to do it?
Keith: I donít know. But I mean, I want to force myself to do it. I want to be writing... I should be writing stuff down about what Iím doing.
Art: How can I help you? If you can work it into your process... in which youíve got ten minutes on a train and you write something down in a notebook.... You keep a little notebook with you, OK? You write something down. Try not to draw a picture every time, because it goes in another direction...Whatever it is. However it looks... putting it down until we have something.
Keith: Well... letís just start taking notes. I want to start taking notes. I have a rough idea in my head of what I think I want the thing to be but thatís sort of, I guess, partly determined by what I write.
Art: Thatís right. Thatís like the process. You know what I mean? Just thinking about it....
Keith: And hopefully, you will help put it together in some kind of sense....
Art: Dig it. I would rather define it in an open-ended way... I think that you can see that thereís value in a thing like that--that you invent as you go along. You donít know exactly what it is.... Now I think weíre narrowing it down. And whatever you get on paper, whatever you put down... because all of this stuff, man...like, the interviews are good. The interviews are really good. It seems like you start to touch some place inside of yourself... but itís really like only hinting at stuff.
Keith: But weíre trying to be more specific. I could be much more specific if I write it myself. I want to do it. After I write some of these things down--put all these things together and weíll do an interview, where... I mean, in interviews usually what they write down is just pieces of the whole interview. You spend hours with someone talking...
Art: Oh, and not only that, they put it together in different....
Keith: They start re-arranging it.
Art: Right. So the order is one thing. Now one thing that I want you to think about is structure. Before you get an idea clearly in your mind in words, you can still have a sense of the direction that you want it to go and the structure. But then, thereís always some kind of repetitious pattern... some kind of sense that seems to be below it or beneath it... some kind of language... something trying to be said. Youíve got to take the time.
Keith: Iím sure Iím going to have some time. I have to have some time to do this. Iím sure.
Keith: Actually, I used to write alot in airports. Iíll just start carrying a notebook with me and it will just happen.
Art: There you go...
Keith: And I mean, itís just a matter of forcing myself to do it, really, like anything else.
Art: Right. Exactly... not forcing it like it has to be bad. It doesnít have to be, you know.... Alright, ah, how do you want to use me? You tell me.
Keith: Well, just keep pestering me, I guess... and then when we get some stuff--it will be about how we put it together. And weíll see then... you know, how weíre going to put it together. I mean probably... it will be interesting if thereís not only these, sort of self-whatever, self-referential writings... but if there was some kind of interview, something that was more of a dialog also. So that one part of the book might be interview and one part of the book would be these writings.
Art: Right. Itís a way of reaching the truth, like Socrates. It was his way of reaching the truth--dialog. You put a dialog together. Like, Andy does that sometimes. Like he just uses the interview format--but you put it together the way you want, so that it leads to something.
Keith: I mean, just so we get more, yeah... I mean, I guess that would be better to do... after we have all these notes, after youíve read the things I wrote. So then we can take these little bits and pieces and then talk about that. So, it takes it one step deeper into the whole thing... ties the whole thing together both ways, instead of just like some kind of simplistic idea.
Art: Yeah. That starts one place and goes to another place and you know where itís going and you know finally where you want it to go... Iím putting it together in one way and youíre putting it together in another...
Keith: Write down your new address again. I mean, I have it written down somewhere but write it down on a separate thing and Iíll put it with my stuff that Iím taking to Europe. And Iíll have a constant reminder of what Iím doing.
Art: Right. Now Iím available. I got this place on 20th Street. If you get... any ideas that you might have, right before you have words...Weíve been thinking about this for six months, man. We ought to have something to say by now! You must know. Like, take a couple of stabs. Whatís this about... like, beyond religion... other universes? Does it connect to something? Is there some sense or connection to all of this? And whatís it about?...You know, it leads to another place. Now what can you say about that? And isnít religion, or like, philospohy a good place to start? You know, religionís a drag, right? But it is philosophy. And philosophy is just the same thing without all the nonsense that makes religion.
Keith: .... The thing is what all of these supposedly different religions have in common, you know. That there is some basic need for people to express or find...to express their belief in something... And in some...whether it comes out as Christianity or Voodoo or Allah or Buddah or whatever...There are a lot of common denominators between all these things that make it seem like there is some sort of--always has and all through time--like a need for people to really have something by believing in this other and bigger thing. And what that means in a more objective way, is how people really think about themselves and how people think about the world.
Art: But what about evil?
Keith: You could write a whole book just about evil.
Art: As soon as you start thinking about it all thereís a problem that comes up right away. And itís wanting to do something about it.
Keith: Forever, people have been trying to figure out what good and evil were. I mean why they existed... or whether they were ideas or real things.
Art: Right. And so they dress them up as angels and devils, right?
Keith: But itís also more... It goes beyond the mess of what they are. I mean there are real good and evil energies that make people...
Art: Itís something inside of a person. Itís inside of each person... like before, when you were talking about happiness...
Keith: Yeah... and well about evil though, theoretically, I mean, if you take it to a natural disaster being evil also....
Art: But then doesnít the artist have a responsibility to somehow do a good thing? But then isnít that politics?
Keith: Yes and no. Well, it becomes politics but itís also morality.
Art: ... And you can see how art is one of the major aspects of it. Somehow communicating in a way, and in an ethical way, becoming like political. And I think you can tie it in, like, real basic kinds of thinking. At least the stuff youíre sure you believe.... What god is--like, thatís up to you--what you think and how you define it, but itís good to start there. You know what you think is real. Is it atoms or energy?
Keith: Iím not sure I believe anything. Everything is, like, what you think you believe.
Art: But where does it start? Like where do things come from? And also, what happens when you die? And what can we do about it, consciously? Can we do anything consciously about it? And is there anything that doesnít die?
Keith: I donít believe anything dies really. It all goes in circles.
Art: You could draw a picture of it, even for yourself. You could draw a very simple picture.
Keith: It might have pictures... but I donít know if itís necessary. It depends what kind of things come out of it.
Art: That was good. I got you to slow down.
Keith: I mean, my thing is that I have so many... Iím trying to do so many things at the same time....
Art: Iím concerned about how all this takes you away from yourself, man... Everybody wants your time... and wants you to do things....
Keith: It will all come back to me, really.
Art: I think its important to take the time to create this thing that comes more directly and to try and give it some significance in your life. To take the time to do it.
Keith: Right.Art: I think we got something accomplished... I never know if Iím bugging you or not. You know because you are so busy.
Keith: No, thatís just the way it is. I mean, the only way itís going to happen is if you bug me, so... I mean you should. Itís the only way Iím going to make myself do it.
Art: Thatís why the feedback is good from you--for me to know that youíre interested.
Keith: Yeah, I want to do it. Thatís right. I just have to balance my priorities. I mean this is going to be around for a long... and Iím giving it as much time as Iím giving the Playboy piece. And it shouldnít be like that. This should be the number one priority in my life...and Iím not sure what that says, but...
Art: Yeah, try and put it in order, take first things first, and make sure that youíre doing it the way you want to do it. Everybodyís time is limited. And you never know. You want to do the best with it.
Keith: OK. Weíll do it.
Keithís sister Kay, sitting sipping tea at my kitchen table, has been listening attentively to her brotherís voice. During my months of solitude, she has become an aquaintance, then a friend.
"He was so young," she says.
Our eyes meet in silence. Keith's sister: In a way it is his flesh that confronts me. I consider the commonalities of seed and blood.
"These tapes bring it right back for me, Kay... to the way it was between us... the sound of his voice, I feel like I can almost continue the thoughts where we left off. This is the one I play when Iím trying to connect with the project."
"You were trying to help him to write words to explain the meaning of his work?"
"More than that. It was the idea of collaboration that made it significant. I mean, that was just one tape. I was looking for this one conversation where we really got the psychic connections going. Then I realized it was just a talk we had on the way to the paint store one day. Now, the only conversations that seem real are the ones I have on tape."
"Iíd like to hear them sometime. We have lots of family pictures of Keith, and thereís that video... "
"'Drawing the Line'. I show it to my art classes."
"Heíd be pleased to know how many kids know his work, just from the tee-shirts and posters," she says. "And the calendars kept the foundation afloat while the lawyers held up the funds. Itís taken years just to sort out the politics and infighting. Everyone thinks they know best how Keith would want things done."
"Didnít he leave directions, directives, or something?"
"He never put anything in writing. He would just wave his hands and say, ĎWhen the time comes, people will know what to do.í"
Listening to her rings bells in me. When I look at Kay a certain way, I see... Keith! The ancestral gaze; they all do it. They stare you down. Some sort of German Protestantism--repression, joylessness--must be fueling it. Of course, Keith threw it all back with a million smiles. Somewhere deep, thereís PA Dutch seriousness in Keithís world view. He transformed it though--totally.
Kay has both tendencies. She can be as cool as a banker or all smiles and innocence, like Keith. But when I give her the chance to talk about their mother, sheís cold and incisive.
"Keith was a motherís boy, but Mom is a stern woman. She ruled the house and dominated Keith. He was rebelling mainly from her rule."
"Thatís not the way Keith told it," I say. "As he saw it, it was his fatherís military demeanor and the conservatism of the other men in the family. He only spoke kindly of your mother."
"He was trying, right up to the day he died, to meet her expectations, to please her, to be her good little Keith."
I recalled the times Iíd encountered members of the stolid Haring family in New York, standing among the pulsing lights, sounds, and people at Keithís gallery shows. They always seemed more out of place than anyone else in the room. But they were right there at the center of it, as if theyíd just been deposited by a tornado, pinching themselves to verify that this dream was really happening. Their way-out-there son was becoming rich and famous, a celebrity among celebrities.
"It always seemed to me that Keithís success made everything OK with your parents."
"Sure, on the surface. But they never accepted his homosexuality. They didnít talk about it. And they had given up the battle over Keithís drug use before he left Kutztown."
"About being gay... he told me something I have never mentioned to anyone, Kay. Just before he left Pittsburgh, he had gotten a girl pregnant. He said he could see his whole life from that point would have gone in one of two directions--he could see the whole pressure of family life, middle-class values, compromise--and he chose then to affirm himself as a radical homosexual artist... he left the girl and went to New York."
"God, Art. I know nothing at all about that."
"No, and Iíve never seen it mentioned anywhere, in print or anything. I guess he just buried it...."
"Thanks for stopping by. Iíve been kind of losing it since Dawn left. Itís more than loneliness. I canít describe how empty I feel. Working with these tapes is a way for me to feel like my life makes some kind of sense."
"Thank you Art. It means a lot to me too."