The work, which displays variations of the same message on both sides of the concrete wall, was inspired by one of Haring’s studio assistants, named Benny, who became addicted to crack in the 1980s during the citywide epidemic. Around this time, Haring often drove by a handball court on East 128th Street, which saw little use, as its location next to a highway made playing on it quite difficult. He thought its placement would make for a good mural, as it served almost like a billboard. He said at the time he was “[i]nspired by Benny, and appalled by what was happening in the country, but especially New York, and seeing the slow reaction (as usual) of the government to respond, I decided I had to do an anti-crack painting,” according to the New York Historical Society.
He completed both sides—each with varying designs—in just one day, but was later arrested for vandalism. The mural, and news of Haring’s arrest for his earnest attempt to spread a positive message, received an onslaught of attention, and soon the city’s parks department revoked the court order and only fined him $100, before asking him if he would consider repainting it, this time with help from the department.
Now, some 30 years later, the work still stands, albeit a little worse for wear. To correct the damage, Hunnicutt and her assistant, William Tibbals, first created stencils of Haring’s designs, which are perforated and will be pounced—a technical term—atop the orange background. But to start, they’re first peeling off the remnants of past restoration efforts and securing what’s left of Haring’s original brushstrokes. So far they’ve been working on it for a couple of weeks, and they are expected to complete the project in a few more—depending on the weather.
“A lot of people have been asking what we’re doing, so I put up a big sign that says it’s being restored so I don’t have to get down off the scaffolding each time,” says Hunnicutt. “You can call it a restoration, but we’re bringing it back to what it looked like originally.”