That letter is the last one you ever wrote to me.
I saved it of, course. I know we talked a few times after that but it’s a material object and over the years it has carried much meaning for me. You sent it after we talked for the first time about you dying. A few days later, the letter arrived.
It was so weird reading it. I called you right up and said you don’t have anything to apologize for, man…
Anyway, by that time we acknowledged The Project had started the day we met. As the ‘80s ended we’d been doing it for nearly a decade. Somewhere in there we both got sidetracked. You became the most famous artist in the world and my life sort of fell apart for awhile. Then yours did too. Soon time was short. As it is now. As it always is. What’s new about that?
Now, decades later it’s the Vernal Equinox again. And, again, I’m having these dreams. Just last night, I dreamed we were at the farm. It was the same dream I had 20 years ago…
I know you know this stuff, Keith. It just seems like a long time here on my end. The Project is moving forward in the way it was always moving forward, defining itself in surprising and amazing ways.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 13 of Reading Lies Dreaming, by Tullio Francesco DeSantis
“Art, it’s Keith, man. Wake up.”
“I can’t Keith. If I wake up the dream will end.” “Right,” he says. “I mean, just get up and move around.”
This is a strange one. I know I’m drifting, back and forth, between states of awareness. I can just sense my bedroom–the low gray morning sunlight shuttered out behind layers of blinds and fabric, the soft scrape of the quilt brushing up against my ear, Hamlet breathing at the foot of the bed. I also know I’m drifting through a greenish mist.
“Wait, Keith. I don’t have it yet.” I’m hearing these thoughts as mine, responding to what I’m hearing.
“We’re at the farm, in Gettysburg, Art. Just look around. No one else is home. We can talk here.”
Yes. I can just make it out. Through the green atmosphere… it’s a cornfield. I’m standing in a cornfield that tops off at about six feet. I feel rough leaves brushing against my arms. I hear the buzz of crickets. I can feel the sun against my neck. The dry sienna dirt at my feet is dust piled up against the upward thrust of thousands of stalks. It must be late August. Flies from the nearby pasture dart about. A little white cornworm, struggles through a silky yellow cob top.
“I’m here, Keith. What now?” My thought-words are slow–single-file. I’m waiting for a response.
“I’m in the barn… up in the hayloft,” he says. I hear his words as soft whispers.
My thoughts are moving now, more purposefully: “This isn’t so easy, man. I’m drifting and it’s hard to get through. I’m coming. Just wait up, OK?”
The intentionality of my movement engenders confidence. I feel more able to navigate through this particular dreamworld. The sky is, cloudless, blue. I like it.
I pass the black-and-white spotted Holsteins. They’ve smashed the green pasture into a muddy brown mess. Flies are everywhere. I move quickly around back, up the little grassy mound to the barn. I notice the Hex signs I expect to be there are instead… radiant UFOs! Keith has painted a pair of little day-glow aliens, climbing down ladder-like beams that start from within the ships and end up forming the perimeter of a circular halo. Beneath the ships, there are wavy lines below a straight line, like water running under a bridge. The designs are tightly rounded. They retain the familiar appearance of the symbols painted on barns all over the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside.
I move the big blood-red barn door with a single smooth motion, fairly effortlessly. My dream body feels quite normal. I have a moment of complete lucidity. I’m completely aware of the dream nature of my experience, yet I am startled at how thoroughly substantial it appears.
Once inside however, it’s clear things will not be as anticipated. The atmosphere here is acrid, laden with ammonia, intense, hot. I am in a steamy cookout room at the mushroom farm. I extend my arm. It disappears before I can envision my hand. I can’t see three feet in front of me.
The rest is pure thinking. It’s as if a conversation is occurring inside my head. The energy of physical experience is transferred to conscious thought. I’m almost paralyzed here, taking little shallow breaths, nearly choking, but my mind is clear. I hear the words I will later record in my dreambook.
“Art,” he says. “This is it, man. You are difficult… very hard to get through to. There’s so much crap and nonsense in your head. This is taking much longer than it needs to, Art. Getting through to you has been hell, man… yeah, hell exactly.”
“I know, Keith.” The words, thoughts really, are instantaneous between us.
“So why do you think I had to come to the mushroom farm? ‘Cause you were stuck there, dreaming about that place for years. You connected your grandfather to all of this, because your dreams were stuck at the farm but it’s not the same thing. Your grandfather isn’t here, man. He’s not in this place, stuck here, like I am. He’s gone, man… free… out of here. He was clear about his living and his dying. You dreamed all the time about that farm though, Art. So I came there to reach you. Understand?”
“I know, Keith. I know it.”
“So, listen, man… it’s a lot easier getting through to other living people. You make everything so hard. What’s the point? I’m using other ways. You will receive the messages. You can take them however you want. You can struggle with it every step of the way or you can just open yourself up to it, man. It’s up to you.”
It went on like that. It seemed endless. I have pages and pages of notes. It was less a conversation than it was hearing a disembodied voice inside of my head–a thousand thoughts, linked up like a miles-long freight train. I stood in that place long enough to understand, to hear him. I did not see him.
When the alarm rang. I sat up and jotted down a few notes. But I felt as if I had a complete memory of the dream, which amounted to a continuous string of insights–ideas, rather than images. …*
Letter from Keith Haring to Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 1989
Keith Haring, Installation, at Hal Bromm Gallery, NYC, 1981.
Photo by Tullio Francesco DeSantis