Melanie Gapany

Article – Keith Harring’s Ghost

Portfolio Categories: Writing.

Published in Jacksonville-based Black Hoodie magazine, the below article was written on request for a client who was looking to incorporate more art related content on his music site. While the magazine is no longer available online, below is a transcript of the article as it was published in July of 2015.

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Where is the line that separates art and graffiti? That is the question one Jacksonville man is now asking himself from behind bars. Kevin Southworth, better known as ‘The Ghost of Keith Haring’ has, for the better part of the last year, been painting traffic utility boxes. Thanks to him, these once blank, gray and un-attractive public fixtures have been transformed into canvasses, adorned with images created in the style of Keith Haring, as an homage to the deceased artist. Southworth was recently arrested by the Sheriff’s office on charges of graffiti, and is facing up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine for painting art which isn’t even his on traffic control utility boxes.

Since August, Southworth has painted a total of 11 boxes, each with a different image of Keith Haring’s work. To him, the message of each painting is clear “It’s peace, love, equal right for human beings and that’s what this city is rallying behind. One, the city wants equal rights but the city also wants street art so this was to start a conversation”

While little is known about Southworth, his artistic contribution to the city came immediately under fire upon his arrest, despite statements from his attorney that highlight his attributes “Southworth is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. He is a veteran of the US Navy Presidential Guard and has always been very active in our community. He has worked with the Chamber, the City Council and the Cultural Council regarding his art. Some of his art is currently hanging in the Cummer Museum and he was recently commissioned by the City of Jacksonville to paint a portrait. His arrest and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s further “social media campaign,” including trying the case in social media and posting his mugshot, is irresponsible, if not unjust.

Southworth considers his art an homage, but is it true that there is little about the art on the traffic control utility boxes which is, in fact, original. Those paintings, if they can be called that, are clear replications of Haring’s style, created by a true innovator of his time. Sure, you can say that Southworth is decorating the city with art, but none of it is original. Keith Haring’s work has been featured on everything from lunch boxes to billboards, so it’s rather shocking that the Jacksonville sheriff’s department would so openly prosecute an artist for such corporate looking art.

Jacksonville residents appear to be torn. Those who appreciate the city’s artistic underbelly and creative pulse, and wish to nurture its artists, tend to be on the same liberally minded side. These people embrace the art for its aesthetic contribution to their surroundings, regardless of style or influence. They stand opposite more conservative residents who see the art as an intrusion on their neighborhoods, who feel that it sully’s the city’s reputation.

While the validity of Southworth’s art remains under scrutiny, the sheriff’s department continues its case against the Jacksonville local, who is currently out on bond. Upon the last assessment, police have stated that the damage will cost a whopping $1,100 to repair.