Once hidden, Keith Harings Amsterdam mural is ready for restoration

Harings mural, painted while he was in Amsterdam for his first solo exhibition in 1986, was covered by an aluminium facade for 24 years Photo: Hanna Hachula. Artwork: © Keith Haring Foundation

Buoyed by successful efforts to conserve outdoor murals by Keith Haring elsewhere, conservators are hoping that the recent easing of European travel restrictions will enable them to begin work in coming months on one in Amsterdam that has experienced significant paint losses since the artist created it in 1986. The mural has been the focus of a local campaign calling for its restoration since it was uncovered in 2018.

Haring, known for his fervent commitment to making his graphic art as accessible to the public as possible, painted the mural while in Amsterdam for his first solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. In typical fashion, “he was just in a sort of frenzy of painting, and its like, Somebody find me a wall!” says Will Shank, an independent US conservator who hopes to restore the mural with his Italian colleague Antonio Rava in a four-to-six-week project.

A suitable brick wall was found in 1986 on a building that was then used as a Stedelijk art depot in the grounds of the citys Central Market Hall. “Then hed say, Someone find me some paint!” Shank recounts. For his outdoor murals, Haring spontaneously relied “in good faith” on whatever commercial paints became available—in this case, an oil-based alkyd paint that “doesnt have a good track record for enduring outdoors”, the conservator adds.

Keith Haring with Andy Warhol in 1986 Photo: Keystone Press/Alamy

Haring painted directly onto the brick in a titanium white line without any preliminary sketches, beginning at the top right and gradually working his way down to the lower left, Shank says. The image, measuring around 12m by 15m, is a highly unusual one within the artists opus: a creature with a dogs head, a caterpillars body, human arms and a fish tail, with a person astride its back. “His line was just so self-assured—he didnt make mistakes,” says Shank, who has also restored deteriorating Haring murals in Paris and Pisa.

Nonetheless, “some people mentioned what a difficult time Haring had getting the paint to stick to the wall because it was blustery and wet”, Shank says. As a result, about 20% of the white line that Haring painted has not adhered and will have to be inpainted, he estimates. Compounding the challenge, the wall is made of two kinds of bricks—red and yellow—and the yellow ones are less porous and have retained less of the paint. “We will experiment on the scaffolding with different kinds of paint to make sure that it does stick to both kinds of bricks,” Shank says. (Rava assumes that they will end up using an acrylic variety.) A protective coating of hydrorepellent resin will then be applied to protect the line of white paint from rain, grime and ultraviolet light.

The aluminium cladding on the food depot building was removed in 2018 Photo: Philip van Maanen. Artwork: © Keith Haring Foundation

In 1994 the building changed hands and became a refrigerated food storage facility, which led to the covering of the exterior with an aluminium façade that completely obscured the mural. DRead More – Source