The mysterious artist who’s been tagging utility boxes and other spots around town with gorgeous art in the style of the late Keith Haring is speaking out.
The police are hoping to identify and arrest the anonymous painter known as Keith Haring’s Ghost.
He sat down with Melissa Ross to explain why his outlaw paintings are dotting the cityscape, and what he hopes to accomplish with his renegade art. To maintain anonymity, his voice has been disguised.
Keith Haring’s Ghost became motivated to start painting shortly after the Jacksonville City Council failed to enact an updated city Human Rights Ordinance protecting employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
“It all started with the Human Rights Ordinance not passing. I couldn’t believe it," he said.
"I didn’t think it would happen and then right on the heels of that case was the final verdict in the (George) Zimmerman trial.”
“At first it was a form of protest, but I live in these neighborhoods too, and I see these boxes every day that aren’t well kept and look terrible. That’s why I choose them, because they stand out to everyone and look so awful.”
He adapted the philosophy of Keith Haring because of its meaning — this form of art, he says, emphasizes equal rights, love and peace.
“What I tried to do is to stick with Keith’s philosophy 100 percent,” he said. “It’s upsetting to live in a city where someone, because of who they love, can be discriminated against their job. It’s pretty weird.”
Keith Haring’s Ghost knows what he’s doing is a crime, but he won’t let that deter him.
“My understanding is that it’s a felony, I’m not scared and it’s just more of a hassle than anything,” he said.
“It also sheds a lot of light on why the city has kind of a bad reputation with regard to art. These guys can’t tell the difference between street art and graffiti. They're going out and taking it down.”
He explained how the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office handles street art around the city.
“It all comes down to the graffiti abatement squad that the JSO has. It’s three full time police officers that go out, they collect evidence, then take it to the property owners and ask them to press charges. Then they go out and hunt down the kids that do it,” he said, adding that the authorities still want him badly.
When asked why he uses the style of the late Keith Haring, he described Haring’s work as “tailored to the masses.”
“People recognize it when they look at it. It’s been around for a long time, and even though Keith’s been dead for 23 years, it never totally left the scene,” he said.
“There’s very little of it left for public consumption unless you go and spend a lot of money to go see it in museums around the world.”
Ultimately, Keith Haring’s Ghost feels that street art can be very beneficial to the city.
“I think Jacksonville is ready for street art,” he said, noting the tourism draw of public art, especially for younger people.
“(The city has) accepted the street art that it’s gotten very well, and it’s time to kick the doors open.”