A rising star in the international art world, American artist Keith Haring visited Australia in 1984 on the invitation of John Buckley, the inaugural director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
Already a celebrated artist of the 1980s’ New York art scene, Haring created a number of temporary works during his three-week stay, including a mural on the National Gallery of Victoria’s iconic water-wall and a wall work in the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ foyer. He spent time with many local artists and designers, and created a number of responsive works including small graffiti pieces along the Yarra River and a body artwork for the Melbourne Fashion Festival. Haring also created paintings that were later exhibited at ACCA.
Of all the works made by Haring while in Australia, the only one intended to be permanently sited in a public space was the outdoor mural painted at the Collingwood Technical College in inner city Melbourne. He painted this mural in one day in front of an audience of students and local residents. Captured with typical bold and energetic colour and line, its pictorial content includes a giant worm with a computer monitor for a brain positioned above a cast of dancing figures. Recently conserved with the support of Arts Victoria, this work is the last remaining large-scale artwork and publicly accessible record of Haring’s time in Melbourne.
Haring’s busy Australian program was coordinated by Buckley who initiated each project and introduced Keith to local artists, writers, academics and curators. Buckley’s intent was to demonstrate ACCA’s ambition to introduce and connect exciting international art and artists to the city. Haring’s visit is warmly remembered by many who met him and saw him work here.
ACCA’s current artistic director, Juliana Engberg recalls: “I met Haring at a couple of functions, most notably a rooftop party at Paul Taylor’s home. It was a great night, humid, sweaty and full of fun. Haring was a charming and sincere guy, a gentle sort of man and unassuming. He told me about a range of art activities he had undertaken during his time here. He was particularly pleased about the major mural he had completed in Collingwood.”
Melbourne street artist turned jeweler, Marcos Davidson, remembers: “He was a driven individual, vivaciously connected with drawing and getting as many drawings up as possible…They were fantastic and inspirational works to see going up.”
In 2012, twenty-eight years after Keith Haring’s visit to Australia, ACCA, in partnership with the City of Yarra, published Caterpillars & Computers: Keith Haring in Australia, a printed publication that gathers together the many threads of Haring’s stay in Australia. It brings Haring’s time in Australia vividly to life through anecdotes and art historical observations, including a detailed overview of Haring’s activities in Melbourne by Ted Gott and Lisa Sullivan with particular reference to the outdoor mural in Collingwood; Jane Rankin-Reid’s positioning of Haring’s artistic practice within an international context, drawing on her own experience of living in New York’s East Village in the 1980s; Lachlan MacDowall’s discussion of Haring’s outdoor works within Melbourne’s own tradition of street art; and a range of reflections from Melbournians about their encounters with Haring during his Melbourne stay. The book also contains previously unpublished photos of Haring and his works.
The Melbourne Keith Haring Mural website was realized as a free online resource and contains interviews with the Keith Haring Foundation, John Buckley and various arts professionals living and working in and around the Collingwood area. These ‘vox pops’ make clear the influence and impact that Keith Haring’s visit had on Melbourne’s artistic community. The website also contains bibliographical information and an image and media archive of documents related to Haring’s time in Australia.