Hash Halper, Street Artist Who Adorned New York With Hearts, Dies at 41

Sometime around 2014, little hearts drawn in chalk mysteriously began appearing on the streets of downtown Manhattan. Some materialized in clusters on sidewalks, while others cascaded along blocks. The hearts inevitably faded away, but for New Yorkers who encountered them, they offered a respite from the harshness of city life.

At least that was the intention of their creator, a street artist named Hash Halper, who started drawing the hearts as a gesture of affection for a woman he was dating. The relationship didn’t last, but the hearts made him feel better, so he kept drawing them. Mr. Halper soon began spreading the healing properties of his hearts, calling himself New York Romantic.

“A heart makes you feel good when you’re not feeling good,” Mr. Halper told Channel 7’s “Eyewitness News” in 2018. “And a heart makes you feel great when you’re feeling great.”

Mr. Halper, who became a beloved fixture in neighborhoods like SoHo and the East Village, died on June 11. He was 41.

When police officers would confront him about his hand-drawn graffiti, he would ask them, “Why are you so upset about a heart?”

By his late 20s, he was calling himself Hash and had immersed himself in the city’s downtown arts and nightlife scene. He curated underground art shows and once sold paintings with the artist Dash Snow outside the brasserie Balthazar. One show he organized in the meatpacking district drew hundreds of people, but was also stressful and triggered a nervous breakdown, his mother said. His family found him taking refuge at the synagogue of the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters.

“I wanted to get him out of New York,” his mother said in a phone interview. “I don’t think it was good for him, but he lived and breathed New York.”

Credit…Dominique Misrahi

Mr. Halper first began drawing hearts with markers on bags for customers at Kossar’s Bagels & Bialys on the Lower East Side when he was working there in 2014. After that, he picked up a piece of chalk.

In addition to his mother and his brother Omkar, Mr. Halper is survived by his father; two other brothers, Asher and Mick Lewis; and two sisters, Sara and Este Lewis.

As of late, Mr. Halper had been more seriously pursuing his fine art, and his solo show was going to showcase a series of his paintings featuring heart motifs. The show was canceled, but over the last year, during the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Halper heeded his call as New York Romantic with more purpose than ever.

On even the darkest days, he walked out into the lonesome East Village, and he got to work. Over and over, chalking away in a flurry, he summoned hundreds of hearts that illuminated the neighborhood.

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