…Not only did I meet Andy during this period, but also Madonna. Now, in 1983, Madonna was very much around the East Village scene. It was sort of her turf. Her boyfriend at the time was “Jellybean” Benitez, and he was deejay of The Fun House, which was a Spanish club in the West Twenties – and Madonna performed there. She had just come out with a couple of songs – they were pop-disco songs – that were beginning to be popular on the radio. She was very much revolving around the Hip-Hop scene – and also gung out at the Roxy, which was a mecca for break dancing. So we all circulated, went to the clubs, and I’d go hear her sing. She and “Jellybean” were close – he wrote songs for her – and it was the beginning of her incredible success.
The parties I gave in the Broome Street apartment were a mixture of all these scenes – and people, and the apartment itself was a scene-and-a-half, because it was totally covered with art. By the time, Andy had done a double portrait of me and Juan. The kitchen was completely covered with a graffiti by LA II and this kid, CRANE – and my private art collection was growing – more Kenny Scharfs, more Basquiats, more graffiti paintings by Futura and Fab Five Fred. My refrigerator and the doors to my apartment were completely covered with signatures of graffiti artists.
The people who came, like Madonna and Andy, represented the downtown cultural elite. It was my “in” scene. It wasn’t the Schnabel-and-Salle painters set. And it wasn’t the Mudd Club scene, but more an extension of Club 57, which by now was defunct. Anyway, from that time on Andy Warhol and I spent more and more time together, because Andy became more and more energized by the scene that was evolving – that whole young thing that ultimately gave him a new creative kick and got him to collaborate with Jean-Michel. Madonna was around and we all kind of grew up together in this crazy swirl of activity.
Keith’s work started in the street, and the first people who were interested in his art were the people who were interested in me. That is, the black and Hispanic community – I’d say people from lower income and background. His art appealed to the same people who liked my music. We were two odd birds in the same environment, and we were drawn to the same world – and inspired by it.
I watched Keith come up from that street base, which is where I came up from, and he managed to take something from what I call Street Art, which was an underground counterculture, and raise it to a Pop culture for mass consumption. And I did that too. The point is, we have an awful lot in common.
Another thing we have in common – and this happened quite early – was the envy and hostility coming from a lot of people who wanted us to stay small. Because we both became very commercial and started making a lot of money, people eliminated us from the realm of being artists. They said, “OK, if you’re going to be a mass-consumption commodity and a lot of people are going to buy your work – or buy into what you are – then you’re no good.” I know people thought that about Keith, and they obviously felt that about me too.
So Keith and I are sort of two sides of the same coin. And we were very supportive of each other in those early days. I remember Keith coming to watch my first shows. That was down at the Fun House, where “Jellybean,” with whom I was involved, was the disk jockey. I’d sing and dance – and I’d choreograph these scenarios – and we had taped music and it was great, because this was Hispanic club, and the atmosphere was just charged!
I don’t know what drew us to these exotic clubs – like the Fun House ot Paradise Garage. Obviously, it was the sexuality and the animal-like magnetism of those people getting up and dancing with such abandon! They were all so beautiful! I’ve always been drawn to Hispanic culture – and so has Keith. it’s another thing we have in common.
So these were the people who bought my records in the first place – and they’re a great audience to perform for. Keith keyed into that too. He’d give these great parties, and I’d go to them and I’d give parties and he’d come to them. And we had such fun!
Another thing we have in common… we have the same taste in men! I remember a funny story about people saying that I stole one of Keith’s friends. What happened was that I had a New Year’s Eve party, and Keith arrived with this incredibly gorgeous guy. I remember Keith saying, “He’s yours, Madonna. He’s your New Year Eve present!” I sad, “Oh, thank you!” And there was this really stunning guy – a great dancer – completely happy and great positive spirit. And so he became my friend, too.
Anyway, I’ve always responded to Keith’s art. From the very beginning, there was a lot of innocence and a joy that was coupled with a brutal awareness of the world. But it was all presented in a child-like way. The fact is, there’s a lot of irony in Keith’s work, just as there’s a lot of itony in my work. And that’s what attracts me to his stuff. I mean, you have these bold colors and those childlike figures and a lot of babies, but if you really look at those works closely, they’re really very powerful and really scary. And so often his art deals with sexuality – and it-s a way to point up people’s sexual prejudices, their sexual phobias. In that way, Keith’s art is also very political.
What stays with me is that very early on, when Keith and I were just beginning to soar, our contemporaries and peers showed all this hostility. Well, the revenge was that, yes, there’s this small, elite group of artists who think we’re selling out. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is digging us!
Of course, it’s what they want too! It’s so transparent! They’re just filled with jealousy and envy. And it certainly didn’t stop us, because Keith didn’t want to do his work just for the people of New York City – he wanted to do it for everybody, everywhere. I mean, an artist wants world recognition! He wants to make an impression on the world. He doesn’t just want a small, sophisticated, elitist group of people appreciating his work. The point of all is that everybody is out there reaching for the stars, but only some of us get there!
When I think of Keith, I didn’t feel alone. I didn’t feel alone in my endeavors. I don’t feel alone in my celebration of what I’ve achieved. I don’t feel alone in the odds I’ve been up against. I feel so akin to Keith in so many ways! I really can’t compare myself to many people… and I don’t feel that many people can relate to where I’ve come from and to where I’ve landed. So when I think of Keith and his life and what he’s achieved… well, I feel that I’m not alone.
© Keith Haring – The Authorized Biography