Friday, May 04, 2018

Born Today In 1958, Iconic Pop Artist Keith Haring


Keith Haring was born today, May 4, in 1958. He was an artist whose pop art and graffiti-like work grew out of the New York City street culture of the 1980s.

Haring's work grew to iconic popularity from his exuberant spontaneous drawings in New York City subways - chalk outlines on blank black advertising-space backgrounds - depicting radiant babies, flying saucers, and deified dogs. After public recognition he created larger scale works such as colorful murals, many of them commissioned. His imagery has become a widely recognized visual language. His later work often addressed political and societal themes - especially homosexuality and AIDS - through his own unique iconography.

Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He was raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, by his mother Joan Haring, and father Allen Haring, an engineer and amateur cartoonist.  He became interested in art at a very early age spending time with his father producing creative drawings. His early influences included Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, and the Looney Tunes characters in The Bugs Bunny Show.

In his early teenage years, Haring was involved with the Jesus Movement. He eventually left his religious background behind and hitchhiked across the country, selling vintage T-shirts and experimenting with drugs. He studied commercial art from 1976 to 1978 at Pittsburgh's Ivy School of Professional Art but lost interest in it. He made the decision to leave after having read Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (1923), which inspired him to concentrate on his own art.


Haring had a maintenance job at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and was able to explore the art of Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey. His most critical influences at this time were a 1977 retrospective of the work of Pierre Alechinsky and a lecture by the sculptor Christo in 1978. Alechinsky's work, connected to the international Expressionist group CoBrA, gave him confidence to create larger paintings of calligraphic images. Christo introduced him to the possibilities of involving the public with his art. His first important one-man exhibition was in Pittsburgh at the Center for the Arts in 1978.

He moved to New York in 1978 to study painting at the School of Visual Arts. He also worked as a busboy during this time at a nightclub called Danceteria. He studied semiotics with Bill Beckley as well as exploring the possibilities of video and performance art. Profoundly influenced at this time by the writings of William Burroughs, he was inspired to experiment with the cross-referencing and interconnection of images.



Chalking in the subway, Keith Haring. (Photo: The Red List)


He first received public attention with his public art in subways where he created white chalk drawings on a black, unused advertisement backboard in the stations. Keith considered the subways to be his "laboratory," a place where he could experiment and create his artwork. Starting in 1980, he organized exhibitions at Club 57, which were filmed by the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi. Around this time, "The Radiant Baby" became his symbol. His bold lines, vivid colors, and active figures carry strong messages of life and unity. He participated in the Times Square Exhibition and drew animals and human faces for the first time. That same year, he photocopied and pasted provocative collages made from cut-up and recombined New York Post headlines around the city. In 1981, he sketched his first chalk drawings on black paper and painted plastic, metal, and found objects.

By 1982, Haring had established friendships with fellow emerging artists Futura 2000, Kenny Scharf, Madonna, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He created more than 50 public works between 1982 and 1989 in dozens of cities around the world. He often used lines of energy to emphasize kinetic movement, vitality, and euphoric spirit. One of his early works in 1982 depicts two figures with a radiant heart-love motif, which critics have interpreted as a boldness in homosexual love and a significant cultural statement. His "Crack is Wack" mural, created in 1986, is visible from New York's FDR Drive. In 1989, he criticized the avoidance of social issues such as AIDS through a piece called "Rebel with Many Causes" that revolves around a theme of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil."

He got to know Andy Warhol, who was the theme of several of Haring's pieces, including "Andy Mouse." His friendship with Warhol would prove to be a decisive element in his eventual success. In December 2007, an area of the American Textile Building in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City was discovered to contain a painting of Haring's from 1979.

In 1984, Haring visited Australia and painted wall murals in Melbourne and Sydney and received a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to create a mural which temporarily replaced the water curtain at the National Gallery. He also visited and painted in Rio de Janeiro, and the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He became politically active, designing a Free South Africa poster in 1985. On October 23, 1986, Keith was asked by the Checkpoint Charlie Museum to create a mural on the Berlin Wall. The mural was 300 meters long and depicted red and black interlocking human figures against a yellow background. The colors were a representation of the German flag and symbolized the hope of unity between East and West Germany. He was interested in working with children and this inspired the project Citykids Speak on Liberty, which involved 1,000 children collaborating on a project for the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

In April 1986, Pop Shop was opened in Soho and made Keith's work readily accessible to purchase at reasonable prices. When asked about the commercialism of his work, Haring 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." By the arrival of Pop Shop, his work began reflecting more socio-political themes, such as anti-Apartheid, AIDS awareness, and the crack cocaine epidemic. He even created several pop art pieces influenced by other products: Absolut Vodka, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and Coca-Cola. In 1987 he had his own exhibitions in Helsinki, Antwerp, and elsewhere. He also designed the cover for the benefit album A Very Special Christmas, on which Madonna was included. In 1988 he joined a select group of artists whose work has appeared on the label of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine.

Haring was an out gay man and was a strong advocate of safe sex; however, in 1988, he was diagnosed with AIDS. He used his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his illness and to generate activism and awareness about AIDS.

In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's programs, and to expand the audience for his work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images. The foundation's goal is to keep Keith Haring's wishes and expand his heritage, crafts, art and goals by providing grants and funding to nonprofit organizations that target educating disadvantaged youths and informing individuals about HIV and AIDS. It also supports arts and educational institutions by funding exhibitions, educational programs, and publications. Haring also entrusted the foundation with carrying on his legacy through research and sharing his works and materials pertaining to his life.

Haring died on February 16, 1990 of AIDS-related complications.

As a celebration of his life, Madonna declared the first New York date of her Blond Ambition World Tour a benefit concert for Haring's memory and donated all proceeds from her ticket sales to AIDS charities including AIDS Project Los Angeles and amfAR. Additionally, his work was featured in several of Red Hot Organization's efforts to raise money for AIDS and AIDS awareness, specifically its first two albums, Red Hot + Blue and Red Hot + Dance, the latter of which used Haring's work on its cover.


Since his death Haring has been the subject of several international retrospectives. His art was the subject of a 1997 retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York, curated by Elisabeth Sussman. In 1996, a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia was the first major exhibition of his work in Australia. In 2008 there was a retrospective exhibition at the MAC in Lyon, France. In February 2010, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Haring's death, Tony Shafrazi Gallery showed an exhibition containing dozens of works from every stage of Haring's career. In March 2012, a retrospective exhibit of his work, Keith Haring: 1978-1982, opened at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. In April 2013, Keith Haring: The Political Line opened at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Le Cent Quatre In November 2014, then at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

Haring's work is in major private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Bass Museum in Miami; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Ludwig Museum in Cologne; and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He also created a wide variety of public works, including the infirmary at Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and the second floor men's room in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan, which was later transformed into an office and is known as the Keith Haring Room.

In 2006, Haring was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of LGBT History Month.

In 2008, filmmaker Christina Clausen released the documentary The Universe of Keith Haring. In the film, his legacy is "resurrected through colorful archival footage and remembered by friends and admirers such as artists Kenny Scharf and Yoko Ono, gallery owners Jeffrey Deitch and Tony Shafrazi, and the choreographer Bill T. Jones."

Haring had a balloon in tribute to him at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.


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