Recently, we stumbled on a slideshow of the brilliant drawings artist Keith Haring made on New York Subway walls during the 1980’s. To take the subway in New York was to be constantly surprised by the energetic, white chalk-on-black, hand-drawn visions where advertising should have been. But what inspires us most is reading Haring’s story of how he came to envision the subways as a drawing space:
December 1980, still in December probably, I go into the subway one day and see for the first time an empty black palate which has been put there to cover an old advertisement. I find out recently that they had been put there for years. I’ve seen photographs from the 40s and 50s, old subway photographs where there are these empty black panels. So it wasn’t a new thing, but I had just never seen it before.
But somehow this one day when I saw it going down in the entrance near my apartment at the time (the F train at 6 ave and 41st street), I saw this empty black panel, and immediately I knew that I had to draw on top of this panel. It was a waiting perfect surface.
The paper they use to cover it is a soft matt black paper. If they had used shiny paper none of this would have ever happened. But they had this soft matt surface that was dying to get drawn on.
I immediately knew that I had to go above ground and buy chalk.
–Haring, from interviews by John Gruen
In a moment, Haring “saw” what he’d been passing daily. Those black spaces became an opportunity.
All he needed was chalk.
bottom photo: Tseng Kwong Chi
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