In Haunt

An Afternoon Without Keith Haring may seem like an intriguing title for an event – and certainly marked a fascinating occasion of commemoration, creative collaboration and live art inspired by the late New York artist Keith Haring on Sunday 10 November at Manchester’s Fairfield Social Club, curated by Dave Haslam.

By Elspeth Mary Moore

A packed audience were plunged into a celebration of the life of Keith Haring, raising funds for two charities endorsed by The Keith Haring Foundation - the Keith Haring Medical Clinic and the Keith Haring Arts program in NYC - and to mark the publication of Dave Haslam's book 'We the Youth: Keith Haring's New York Nightlife', out now (pictured below, with blue cover) on Cōnfingō Publishing. Haring was a pioneering creative; bringing his distinct pop art and graffiti-infused work to 1980s New York, yet captivating people across the world. He would spontaneously draw in subways, on streets – leaving the chalked outlines of a range of figures (including his iconic dog images!), symbols and signs that became almost a kind of visual language in its own right. As his output grew, he went onto create vibrant coloured murals and larger pieces, exploring themes close-to-heart within his work including connection, love, homosexuality and AIDS awareness. (Pictured above: artwork created by Boo Who during the event)

By Elspeth Mary Moore

Experimental and innovative, Haring was unapologetic and bold in his approach – bringing the public face to face with loaded imagery full of pertinent cultural statements. For example, much of his work involves sexual motifs, linking to his own passionate advocating of LGBT+ rights, visibility as a gay man and AIDS awareness. Socially profound in his artistry, Haring was also increasingly productive – creating the sheer majority of his work during his 20s: between the years 1982- 1989 he was involved in over 50 public pieces. His art adorned a range of spaces – not just streets and subways – but discotheques, dance works, nightclubs and underground cultural venues; an aspect elaborated on in Dave Haslam’s fascinating latest book and the afternoon’s conversation.

By Elspeth Mary Moore

Fairfield Social Club was perhaps a well-suited venue for events then; an atmospheric railway arch tucked away behind Piccadilly Station oozing hidden charm, charged with a DIY vibe and ofBy Elspeth Mary Moore fering a notably friendly feel. In turn, An Afternoon Without Keith Haring was an event feeling eclectic and vibrant – very much like the output of the man himself. This included an impassioned introduction and expression of thanks from Dave Haslam, who informed the audience that the event had already raised £400 for the charitable causes – totalling an impressive £1200 by the end of proceedings.

Notably too, the afternoon featured a number of feel-good musical features, with the Kiss Me Again DJs spinning the tunes as the crowd gathered; the dramatic stone archway providing ample seating space. There also was an energetic live set from Manchester-based HUSK (pictured left): performing a catchy, expressive cover of Madonna’s ‘Lucky Star’ as well as his own anthemic single ‘Feeling Heat’, out now on local independent label AnalogueTrash.

This was an afternoon that did not shy away from investigating the underside of culture either, cracking open perhaps previously concealed stories: as Dave Haslam went on to lead an insightful on-stage in-conversation with Samantha McEwen, (pictured below, with Dave Haslam) a student colleague of Keith’s at the School of Visual Arts, and also his housemate 1980-82. This allowed for fascinating insight into the 1980s NYC scene and its highs and lows, as well as Samantha’s powerful account of the feelings of threat and speculation that existed around what became known as the ‘AIDS Epidemic’: when increasing numbers of people suffering from and dying of AIDS and HIV were reported.

In Haslam’s book Samantha talks about the devastation caused to a generation of young gay men in New York, and how she thought their life and talents and work would be forgotten; “People began to die literally in their hundreds. It was gone. The world that had started in 1978 was gone, it was literally gone; artists, musicians, dancers, and the people writing about them.”

Haslam, in his turn, during the onstage discussion, talked of the Manchester experience; “I remember meeting some beautiful and inspiring young men in the 1980s at places like Hero’s, Stuffed Olive, and the Archway, but so many had died by the end of the decade. Club promoters, DJs, venue owners.” He said one of his hopes for the book was to remember and commemorate the creative contribution of the gay community to life in the 1980s.

By Elspeth Mary Moore

Keith Haring himself was a passionate supporter of AIDS awareness and LGBT+ rights, contributing with his creative work to causes such as World AIDS Day, National Coming Out Day and ACT UP. Even when in 1987 Keith himself was diagnosed with HIV, he went onto express the importance of awareness and advocated for safe sex and education, his art often reflecting  this in a candid, colourful way.

Keith’s work certainly attracted attention at the time – including supporters such as Andy Warhol and Grace Jones: the latter whom Keith live-painted on a number of occasions. In turn, this was recreated evocatively in the Manchester event: artist Pete Obsolete painting model Teneille in homage to Haring painting Grace Jones – the pair taking to the stage as the final areas of paint were applied (pictured below). This allowed for a surprisingly emotional and intense experience.

By Elspeth Mary Moore

Another aspect of live art also unfolding throughout the afternoon was from Boo Who (creating the artwork in the first image of this article), a street artist who created a giant colourful mural, then auctioned for the Haring-related charities. Gerry Potter also performed rousing poetry, image-rich, rhythm-rolled and deeply emotive (pictured below).

In turn, this was an afternoon not of passive performances and displays but full-on arts engagement and activism: very much tribute to the inspiring legacy of Keith Haring himself and celebrating his influence. Adding to the communal feel was a vegan Mexican foodtruck from Handlebar Burrito and a pop-up book and vinyl stall courtesy of  Cōnfingō Publishing.

An event exploring the artistic underground and an atmospherically hidden, yet positively thriving space – An Afternoon Without Keith Haring  created a communal feel for all to enjoy and to reflect on Keith Haring’s life and ongoing legacy. The funds raised underline the impact of a man not only capable of touching our hearts today but aiming to extend his compassion to others less fortunate, even in death: a profound thought for us all.

By Elspeth Mary Moore

By Emily Oldfield

Photography – image credit and with thanks to Elspeth Mary Moore (previously featured in our 'A selection of photographers celebrating Manchester's underground culture' here)

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