Keith Haring (1958 – 1990)
The public needs art, and it is the responsibility of a ’self-proclaimed artist’ to realize the public needs art, and not to make bourgeois art for the few and ignore the masses. … I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible with as many different individual ideas about the given piece with no final meaning attached. The viewer creates the reality, the meaning, the conception of the piece. I am merely a middleman trying to bring ideas together. – Keith Haring
Keith was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1958. His mother was a housewife while his father was an engineer and amateur cartoonist. Being 4 years old, Keith was captivated by
Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, and the Bugs Bunny Show. He enjoyed drawing and immersed himself in American popular culture of comics, cartoons, and adverts. He decided to follow the steps of his father and make cartoons. After graduating from high school, he studied at the art school in Pittsburgh and was expelled at the end of the second semester. He simply lost interest towards studying. Keith read the book “The Art Spirit” which encouraged him to develop his own style in art. Young Keith was curious about the works of modern paintings and sculptures. He was inspired by large paintings and decided to create huge canvases of calligraphic images. In 1978, Haring had his first exhibition in Pittsburgh.
He moved to New York to study painting at the School of Visual Arts. He studied semiotics and the possibilities of video and performance art. He was interested in the cross-referencing and interconnection of images. Haring and his close friends who shared the same interests in vibrant and gaudy graffiti art organized exhibitions at popular clubs and other popular places where the one could find art admirers.
In 1980, he set up exhibitions at Club 57, which were filmed by the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi. Haring began his career by making graffiti on the walls of the New York subway as well as in Melbourne, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin. Simple figures and bright colors quickly made him famous around the world. However, at the beginning of his career, he refused to conclude an agreement regarding the use of his image on souvenirs and other goods. He was afraid that his art would become too commercialized. After his teacher, Andy Warhol convinced the young artist that it’s totally OK to receive money for the work, Haring’s artworks appeared on postcards, notebooks’ covers, envelopes, t-shirts, and bed linens. In his work, the one can see the strong influence of Dubuffet, Aleshinsky, Mark Tobey, Jackson Pollock, Warhol is noticeable. Keith also collaborated with Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Yoko Ono, and Madonna.
In New York, Haring immediately became a part of the East Village art scene, closely related to the New Wave, hip-hop, and graffiti. Haring became famous due to his unusual street art. He spread absurdist collages from newspaper headlines around the city. He also drew various pictures on black paper using a piece of chalk on black papers in the New York subway. His sign illustrations were a luminous baby, a howling dog, a soaring saucer and giant hearts. These graffiti drawings drew the attention of New York commuters, as well as the city authorities. Haring also was arrested for vandalism. Eventually, these weird drawings became famous. Haring gave his works to passersby and later those who were interested in his art united and created a network of street art lovers. Haring’s life seems to be the perfect implementation of pop art ideas. Haring’s pictures were everywhere and became an integral part of New York art. In 1980, Haring began painting again and created a few more unique images.
During the 80s he painted more than 50 public pieces in various places around the world. He created his most popular mural, “Crack is Wack” when he was 28. He got acquainted with Andy Warhol, who became the hero of Haring’s paintings. They were close friends, and Warhol helped Keith to become successful.
The first solo exhibition of Keith Haring was held in New York in 1982. He worked part time at the Pittsburgh Center as an interior decorator. When he had a few hours left, he drew new pictures in the store rooms. When one of the exhibitions at the Pittsburgh Center was canceled, the director offered Haring to show his own works. His works mostly reflected abstract labyrinths and endlessly intertwined geometric figures.
In 1984, Haring visited Australia and received a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria and to create a mural. In 1986, the artist opened a “Pop Shop” in Manhattan, where he sold a variety of goods with his creative paintings depicted on them. Once he said: “I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art.” The shop was opened until September 2005, and now it works as an online store. The artist wanted his works to be as accessible as possible and erase the border between his art and ordinary people. In 1987 he had a few more exhibitions around the world. He also created the cover for the album A Very Special Christmas, on which Madonna’s track was included.
Haring collaborated with designers and fashion brands as well. He cooperated with such fashion designers to create clothing collection. One piece was even worn by Madonna for her popular performance on the show in Britain. Haring designed jewelry pieces as well.
In 1988, Keith Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. Therefore, he decided to launch the special foundation to help children’s organizations committed to increasing AIDS awareness.He also entertained children in schools, by painting large murals with them. He died at the age of 31. His artworks are owned by rich collectors and reputable museums. Haring’s art, with its shrewdly straightforward manner and its profound idea of different social issues, attracts viewers.
Keith Haring initiated a movement against those who concealed information regarding the problems of AIDS patients. The danger of this disease became the main theme of his works.