During the 1983 Montreux Jazz Festival, the original owner of this work, Rupert Smith asked Keith Haring to draw something on his motorcycle helmet. The artist had been invited to Montreux by the festival’s director, Claude Nobs, where he sketched on various objects (including a green Land Rover) and designed the promotional poster. Unsure of what he should ask the artist to sketch, Haring suggested that he could draw a guardian angel to keep him safe on his motorcycle. Smith loved the idea, and the cherished helmet remained in his collection for more than 20 years.

Haring drawing on a festival-goers t-shirt. Photographer Philippe Dutoit © 1983 Claude Nobs’ Archives

Keith Haring 1958–1990

Keith Haring was born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania. From a young age he enjoyed drawing, especially Disney characters and other cartoons. He initially wanted to become a commercial artist but after a year at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, Haring dropped, moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Haring immediately felt connected to the thriving alternative arts scene happening downtown in the late 1970s and became friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf.

Inspired by the ideals of “art as life” and moving the art experience out of galleries and into the streets, Haring’s first major works were his subway drawings. Haring produced over one hundred of these public works between 1980 and 1985, integrating his now-iconic exuberant, cartoonish outlined figures into everyday public space in a way that directly engaged its viewers. Haring recalled that the most important aspects of these works was the immediate engagement people had with them, asking him “what does it mean?” and giving him feedback that he’d then incorporate into future drawings. In this way, these works became reflections of the people who viewed them, responsive to and in dialogue with their environment. These works quickly garnered the attention of tastemakers in New York and his first solo exhibition was held at Westbeth Painters Space in 1981 and a celebrated show debuted at the high-profile Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York the following year.

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