Keith Haring staged a sneak attack on the consciousness of New Yorkers in the late 1970s and early '80s.
The Pennsylvania-born artist descended into the subway system to draw stylistically consistent chalk images on black paper in spaces where liquor and Broadway show ads usually hung. He was cited several times for graffiti, but the images stayed up long enough to earn Haring an international reputation.
Also in the late 1970s, Haring's own consciousness fell under the sway of "Naked Lunch'' author and Lawrence resident William S. Burroughs, whom Haring saw perform at a New York convention. Haring even abandoned art for a time in the late '70s to concentrate on writing.
Haring and Burroughs finally met at a 1983 party, and the two became good friends, according to James Grauerholz, director of William S. Burroughs Communications. In 1988, Haring and Burroughs collaborated on a book called "Apocalypse,'' which features prints by Haring and text by Burroughs. In 1989, a second book, called "The Valley,'' brought together Haring's etchings and Burroughs' hand-written messages.
NOW THE portfolios from both books are the subject of a show at the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, called "Keith Haring Prints, William Burroughs Text.'' The show opens next Sunday in the North Balcony Gallery and runs through Oct. 11.
Haring died in 1990 from an AIDS-related illness, but he left behind paintings, prints and murals that all bear his individual stamp. He also left friends who cared deeply about him and his work.
"Keith is one of my heroes,'' said Grauerholz, who knew Haring. "Actually, I don't want to make him sound like a saint, because he had all the human failings. But he was one of the most generous, sincere, incisive, honest, hard-working artists I've known, and in my life I've known a lot of artists.''
HARING WAS born in 1958 in Kutztown, Pa., and studied art in Pittsburgh and the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He was the subject of more than a score of exhibitions around the world. Haring also made an appearance in Lawrence in 1987 at the River City Reunion, Grauerholz said he drew a chalk mural on the sidewalk in front of the Kellas Gallery on Seventh Street and painted a mural on a now-demolished skateboard track north of town.
"Apocalypse'' came about at the suggestion of the publisher, George Mulder Fine Arts, Grauerholz said. The book features 10 prints by Haring, which combine borrowed images from medieval and Renaissance art with his characteristic thick, curving lines and depictions of cartoon-like creatures, televisions, exploding volcanos and sex organs. Burroughs' text features lines such as "The planet is pulling loose from its moorings.''
THE COVER features a haunting photograph of the young, thin, bespectacled Haring leaning intently over Burroughs, who wears his now-famous hat.
"The Valley'' portfolio features 15 Haring etchings and 15 handwritten pages by Burroughs. The text tells the tale of the escape-bent people in an isolated valley. Although Haring was best known for his graffiti, these two works show his scope was much broader, Grauerholz said. When Haring printed or drew these works, he was faced with death, and the art expressed both his own struggle and the overall struggle against the AIDS virus.
"This is late work,'' Grauerholz he said. "The graffiti was only an episode. In the '80s he was doing murals, oils and licensing. The very late work represents a real breakthrough. In `Apocalypse,' he knew he was HIV positive but he was not yet ill. In `The Valley,' he already had symptoms of AIDS. He was very brave.''
GRAUERHOLZ will speak on the collaboration between Haring and Burroughs at 2 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Spencer Museum Auditorium. Burroughs, who is an artist as well as a writer, will display "The Seven Deadly Sins,'' a portfolio of woodblocks, screen prints and text, beginning Sept. 12 at Artists En Masse, 803 Mass.
In addition to the Haring-Burroughs exhibit, the Spencer will be opening two other shows this month:
"Seeking the Floating World: The Japanese Spirit in Turn-of-the-Century French Art,'' will be on display from Aug. 22 to Oct. 4. The show features French art influenced by Japanese traditions.
"Baldwin Lee Photographs'' opens next Sunday and runs through Sept. 27. The exhibit displays 55 photographs taken in the South.