Keith Has Arrived In The Building!!

This post a little different than most that I do. A majority of the time I publish my opinion about some hot button issue, politics, a little motivation here and there, or some informative marketing information, things like that. Today however, it is very personal for me.

For any of you who know me you know that there are a few things in life that I love beyond words. Those things include my son, his wife, and my three AMAZING grandkids (soon to be four); my mom, my sister, my late father, and my brother. In case you are one of the few people who actually know me very well, you also know that I love candy, caffein, and sugar in its many splendid forms.

The few of you who know me extremely well also know there are a few artists including performance artists, graphic artists, painters, calligraphers, etc. that I hold near and dear to my heart.

Of course the illustrious and late Ertha Kitt who can do no wrong in my eyes and is truly phenomenal in my world! She sang, danced, acted, advocated, protested, and made folks pay attention when she spoke! Let’s not forget she was the best Catwoman ever!! She performed on stages around the world from 1945 until 2010.

Eartha Kitt as Catwoman (B&W photo). Eartha Kitt in 2006 (red and black dress)

Andy Warhol and Divine are other faves! I’ve always been fascinated by those who travel off the beaten path. In 1988 I had the exciting opportunity to meet Andy Warhol, Divine, and Keith Haring together. Talk about a fun filled and bazaar meeting!!

Divine and Andy Warhol

“Get to the point JT”, I hear y’all yelling at me!

My absolute favorite graphic artist, second to none is the late Keith Haring. I crossed paths with him in 1989 due to a fluke. I happened to go to Iowa City to sneak around with this guy who was a couple of years older than me. He had a driver’s license and we decided to go to the University of Iowa’s Gay People’s Union; the only place we felt we could be ourselves for more than a hot minute.

Helping Keith with a mural meant grabbing paint tubes and buckets, and brushes. Cleaning spills and splatters.

After our stop n gossip at the GPU, we went to the 620 Club (Iowa City’s one and only gay bar at the time). The dance floor is where I met Keith. There was an immediate connection. Instantly I knew I had a friend.

That night I was invited to Horn Elementary School to “help” Keith with a mural he was painting there the next day. Let me translate “help” real quick. . .

Helping Keith with a mural meant grabbing paint tubes and buckets, and brushes. Cleaning spills and splatters. Getting laughed at for being awkward in front of others that were watching. Lol.

By night fall Keith had painted an amazing mural on the wall of the junior high.

Keith Haring mural at Horn Elementary School in Iowa City, IA.

Keith was and AIDS educator through his art. The fact that he was a graffiti artist meant the bulk of his art was in the streets; on the outside walls of block long buildings; in tunnels. Keith was never confined to a small canvas that could be put in a corner or on the closet shelf.

On February 16, 1990 Keith passed away of AIDS-related complications. He was 31 years old when he died

He painted stories of death, homelessness, sex and sexuality with none of society’s boundaries! He coined the phrase, ‘Crack is Wack’ long before the words crossed the lips of Whitney Houston.

For the next year I maintained contact with Keith. He had previously disclosed his HIV status to me. In mid January of 1999 his assistant and studio manager, Julia, contacted me and let me know the end was near for our friend. On February 16, 1990 Keith passed away of AIDS-related complications. He was 31 years old when he died.

Today I see Keith’s work on t-shirts, posters, ball caps, cups, etc. Each time I see a piece of his work I smile. I smile because I know what an impact he had on our world. I smile because through his work he educated folks about AIDS, death, and sexuality at a time most would not utter those words out loud in public much less paint them all over metro areas in America and around the world!!

In 2014, Haring was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco, a walk of fame noting LGBTQ people who have “made significant contributions in their fields.”

In 2019, Haring was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

Today, I received a much anticipated delivery. In a triple wrapped, poly bubble filled box delivered via courier, came a Painting. A painting I literally invested over half a year’s salary in.

I have waited most of my adult life to be this close to my friend Keith again. Now I have the amazing fortune to wake up every day and look across the room at an amazing work done by my late friend and mentor in the AIDS advocacy arena. Yeppers! I own a piece created by my friend, Keith Haring. Actually, unbeknownst to my best friend, Demonica, her and I own an original work by Keith Haring!! Surprise Demo. See nearly 40 years of dealing with me has its perks (only a partial offset for enduring some of the low points of this almost four decade roller coaster ride we casually call life).

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