Volume 78 / Number 9 - July 30 - August 5, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Nick Brooks (top photo)

Above, the restored Keith Haring mural at E. Houston St. and the Bowery after LA II finished adding his signature squiggle in the “negative spaces.” Below, the restored mural before LA II made his additions.

LA II teams up again with Haring on Houston mural

By Nick Brooks

This past spring the Keith Haring Foundation sponsored the re-creation of a popular Haring mural at the northwest corner of E. Houston St. and Bowery. The mural was completed on May 4, on what would have been the artist’s 50th birthday had he not died of AIDS at age 31. The mural was one of Haring’s earliest, depicting cleanly drawn figures and twin, three-eyed smiley faces with lots of empty space between these figures.

Except for a minor exception — one graffiti scrawl — the mural stood untouched by vandals or other artists for more than two months.

Last week, on the morning of Tues., July 22, a minivan carrying four men, a ladder and several cans of spray paint pulled up in front of the mural. The men stepped from the car and examined the mural carefully. Then, one of them stepped forward and approached the wall. He gripped in his right hand a can of flat-black spray paint.

He raised his arm and spray-painted his graffiti names on the mural, “LA II” and “LA Roc.” He then invited up a longtime friend of his — who had first introduced him to Haring — and the friend, in turn, painted his street name on the concrete wall, “Soe.” Then, between Haring’s broad lines, in the “negative space,” LA — as he’s referred to — painted short, wild, electric squiggles and icons.

LA II, who grew up and still lives on the Lower East Side, collaborated with Haring on many of his works. But after Haring’s death, LA II had a falling out with the Haring Foundation, which he feels has not given him respect, dismissing his work as mere “tagging.”

The Haring Foundation is not pleased with the guerilla addition to the mural. They say that the reproduction was meant as a memorial to Haring and, as such, it was wholly inappropriate, if not outright disrespectful, for LA II to touch it.

Julia Gruen, the foundation’s director, said she was “very surprised” to find out that LA II had added his work to the piece.

“Well, hell, it was a little disappointing,” she said. “We were hopeful it would not get tagged. LA seems to have some sort of beef with the foundation.”

Others, including Fab 5 Freddy, the hip-hop pioneer who knew both Haring and LA II in their heyday, say that LA II just did what he always has done: fill in the blank spaces between Haring’s sparse lines with feral filigree, in ink or paint, charging it with energy, giving it life.

“It was,” Fab 5 Freddy said of LA II’s alterations, “in the spirit of true graffiti. Keith would have loved it.”

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