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Asheville's free art film series continues Friday

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9/19/2012 - Asheville's free art film series continues Friday
by Asheville Citizen Times

 ASHEVILLE -- When Diane Ruggiero, the city of Asheville's superintendent of cultural arts, left her office on Sept. 15 to take a new position in Alexandria, Va., she left behind some Keith Haring decals she had stuck on the walls.

 "I'm a fan of Keith Haring," she said about the young artist who started making chalk drawings on blank advertising panels in New York subways and helped spark an international street art movement.

"I was a teenager in the '80s in New York on Long Island when he had his heyday," she said. "I liked to watch him work with others, work with kids. It's a great to see an artist so community-oriented."

Ruggiero's career as a public arts administrator has followed Haring's dictum that "Art is for everyone." So it makes sense that she chose to show "The Universe of Keith Haring," a documentary about the artist as part of an art film series in Carrier Park, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

The film about Haring -- who died in 1990 at age 31 -- will be projected, weather permitting, on the side of Easel Rider, Asheville's Mobile Art Lab. Ruggiero developed Easel Rider to take art activities throughout the city.

"The Universe of Keith Haring" is the second in a free series of art documentaries that continues through October. "Most people bring chairs and food and make themselves at home," Ruggiero said. "It's like an outdoor art picnic."

Asheville connections

Leisa Rundquist, an assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at UNC Asheville, says Asheville has a debt to Haring's art.

"Keith Haring was really a pioneer in street art," she said. She sees him as the forerunner for the graffiti writers and muralists who are embellishing Asheville walls.

"The big portrait at Moog Music, everything under the I-240 underpass, all these murals that are going up," she said, "all are a part of street culture. This is art for the people."

She finds another similarity between Haring and Asheville's street artists. He was an activist, she said, portraying universal themes of love and war and eventually AIDS activism. "It looks friendly and bubbly, but it has a lot of complexity to it," she said.

Asheville artist Dustin Spagnola, who was commissioned with Gus Cutty to paint the portrait of Robert Moog on the side of Moog Music on Broadway Street just north of I-240, says Haring and fellow New York street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat were pop culture icons during his childhood in the 1980s.

"I can very vividly remember his work," he said, although he looks to Rauschenberg and Motherwell as personal inspirations. "I consider Haring an influence only because it's considered in the same genre as my work."

But he agrees with Haring, he said. "I believe strongly that art belongs out in the open."

Animating Haring

The screening of the documentary will be a special treat for Asheville artist Christopher Oakley.

An animator and new media instructor at UNCA, Oakley used some of Haring's most famous images to create animations for Madonna's 2008 Sticky and Sweet Tour.

Working on a computer in his Fairview studio, Oakley turned iconic Haring creations such as Radiant Baby and Disk Jockey Dog into dancing figures whose moves were then echoed by the dancers onstage. His only instruction, he said, was, "Come up with some really cool stuff."

When Madonna was coming up through the music scene in New York, Haring was becoming well known in the art world. They became close friends, and she wanted to perform her 1980s hit "Into the Groove" with Haring images pulsating on video screens, Oakley recounted.

His animations, completed after the "Universe" documentary came out, can be seen on YouTube and on the concert DVD of Madona's Sweet and Sticky Tour.

But watching the Haring film in Asheville's River Arts District, as opposed to renting a DVD or streaming Netflix at home, will be a communal art experience Haring would appreciate.

Ruggiero thinks Asheville's interest in street art will make audiences want to look at one of the earliest street artists.

"Folks are going to know who Keith Haring is," she said. "We're fortunate that h ere in Asheville there's not a huge learning curve. It's a name that folks know."

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