Talking with Keith Haring, June 1986, part one

Image: Keith Haring, Untitled, 1981Collection of Tullio Francesco DeSantis*After more than five years of personal interaction, dialog, collaborative interviews, art and writing, I suggested to Keith the idea of a comprehensive work in which our notes and conversations would be used to help him and his audience to better comprehend potential messages and meaning in his work. In the mid-’80s, I received a grant from the PA Council on the Arts to initiate the process. Keith died before we completed the project. Many of his notes were incorporated into the publication of his notebooks. “The Project” – as we referred to it – is still in process and evolving. Various versions of it have been published anonymously on the Net. It is continually recreated in ever more open-ended, process-oriented, and conceptual ways.Here is a part of a conversation we had in June of 1986 regarding the methodology and content of what we were committed to doing together. I think Keith’s exact words – unedited – provide an illuminating view of his inner self. To my mind, this was the most phenomenal aspect of the man.*KH: Well… let’s 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 that’s sort of, I guess, partly determined by what I write.TFD: That’s right. That’s like the process. You know what I mean? Just thinking about it….KH: And hopefully, you will help put it together in some kind of sense….TFD: …I would rather define it in an open-ended way… I think that you can see that there’s value in a thing like that–that you invent as you go along. You don’t know exactly what it is…. Now I think we’re 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 it’s really like only hinting at stuff.KH: But we’re 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 we’ll 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…TFD: Oh, and not only that, they put it together in different….KH: They start re-arranging it.TFD: 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, there’s 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. You’ve got to take the time. KH: I’m sure I’m going to have some time. I have to have some time to do this. I’m sure.TFD: OK.KH: Actually, I used to write a lot in airports. I’ll just start carrying a notebook with me and it will just happen.TFD: There you go…KH: And I mean, it’s just a matter of forcing myself to do it, really, like anything else.TFD: Right. Exactly… not forcing it like it has to be bad. It doesn’t have to be, you know…. Alright, ah, how do you want to use me? You tell me.KH: Well, just keep pestering me, I guess… and then when we get some stuff–it will be about how we put it together. And we’ll see then… you know, how we’re going to put it together. I mean probably… it will be interesting if there’s 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.TFD: Right. It’s 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.KH: 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 you’ve 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.TFD: Yeah. That starts one place and goes to another place and you know where it’s going and you know finally where you want it to go… I’m putting it together in one way and you’re putting it together in another…KH: Write down your new address again. I mean, I have it written down somewhere but write it down on a separate thing and I’ll put it with my stuff that I’m taking to Europe. And I’ll have a constant reminder of what I’m doing.TFD: Right. Now I’m available. I got this place on 20th Street. If you get… any ideas that you might have, right before you have words…We’ve 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. What’s this about… like, beyond religion… other universes? Does it connect to something? Is there some sense or connection to all of this? And what’s it about?…You know, it leads to another place. Now what can you say about that? And isn’t religion, or like, philospohy a good place to start? KH: …. 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.*

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