A mural by Keith Haring, one of America’s most popular public artists, has been restored in Philadelphia.
“We The Youth” has been tucked away on the side of a Point Breeze rowhome since 1987, when it was painted by Haring and a group of local young people to mark the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. It had faded, and fallen into serious disrepair.
“There were cracks; pieces were missing. The colors were dull and boring,” said Erica Bryant, who bought the house a year and a half ago when she moved to Philadelphia with her husband. They had never heard of Keith Haring, but nevertheless set in motion to have it restored.
Haring was a celebrated graffiti and gallery artist from the 1980s, famous for his colorful “radiating figures” – a featureless body often depicted dancing joyously. He died of AIDS-related illneses in 1990. In 1987 he was invited to come to Philadelphia by the Brandywine Workshop to paint “We The Youth” with a group of young people. The image is a crowded field of radiating figures, each with its own internal design created by the kids he was working with.
While there are more than 30 murals by Keith Haring in the world, he rarely did them collaboratively. This is the only collaborative mural of his still intact.
“It’s really the contribution of the young people that makes it stand out so much,” said Julia Gruen, director of the Keith Haring Foundation in New York. “Keith is known for these figures, but these have designs in them, words in them. That makes it completely its own thing.”
Even though the mural is not one of its own, the Mural Arts Program first repaired “We The Youth” in 2000. That was little more than a light touch-up, which quickly faded. This restoration, also by Mural Arts, is a complete overhaul, which stripped the surface of the wall, repaired its structural damage, replaced its waterproof flashing, and re-created the figures.
Mural Arts director Jane Golden said new surfacing technology and glazing techniques should keep the image of dancing figures intact for 30 more years.