Keith Haring was an influential American Pop artist known for cartoon-like paintings, drawings, and murals typified by the boldness of their lines and the directness of their message. His short-lived career spanned just the 1980s but has a far-reaching legacy.Read More
As a figure of American 20th-century contemporary art, Keith Haring is important because, alongside artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, he brought a new energy to the art of painting in the 1980s, reinvigorating the increasingly marginalised medium with elements of graffiti and popular culture.
The Pennsylvania-born artist spent time studying and developing his art in Pittsburgh before moving to New York in 1978. Haring came to the city on a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts, where he experimented with collage, installation, performance, and video. At the same time, he maintained a firm commitment to the drawing practice he began in his childhood.
Quickly swept up in the vibrant, experimental East Village art scene, Haring mingled amongst uninhibited and innovative compatriots like Scharf and Basquiat. Situated outside of the conventional gallery and museum system, the East Village scene emerged from backstreets, subways, clubs, and alternative art spaces like P.S. 122 and Club 57, where Haring held exhibitions.
Haring's influences also included older artists like Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Burroughs, and Christo. Not only valuing their individualism, in the case of Christo, Haring was greatly moved by the idea that art could reach all people, not just the elite. These influences are present in the hundreds of subway drawings Haring made between 1980 and 1985, in which rhythmic chalk lines cover subway stations' matte black advertising boards.
From his subway works, Haring developed motifs such as the iconic Keith Haring hearts, barking dogs, UFOs, and glowing babies. Compelled to create art that reaches an audience beyond the art elite, Haring made many public works throughout his career. An iconic example, especially since its restoration, is the Crack is Wack (1986) mural in East Harlem, which Haring made in response to the crack cocaine epidemic sweeping the poorer neighbourhoods of New York.
Haring's art can be found in public spaces worldwide, but the artist's burgeoning career, which exploded in the 1980s, was sadly cut short. Keith Haring died from AIDS-related complications in 1990 at the young age of 31.
Keith Haring's art legacy continues to be felt inside and outside of the gallery, from internationally popular Keith Haring clothing—including Keith Haring hoodies, T-shirts, and caps—to the work of the Keith Haring Foundation, which preserves and circulates his work while supporting not-for-profit organisations that assist children and HIV/AIDs-related causes.
Keith Haring, Tate Liverpool (2019); Keith Haring: Multiplexism, National Museum of History, Taipei (2015); Keith Haring and the Pop World: Retrospect, Nakamura Museum, Yamanashi (2013); Keith Haring: New Wave Aztec, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2004); Keith Haring: A Retrospective, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1997); Keith Haring: Future Primeval, Queens Museum, New York (1990); Art in the Park, Whitney Museum of American Art, Stamford (1986); One Person Show, Museum of Contemporary Art, Bordeaux (1985).
Art after Stonewall, 1969–1989, Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Miami (2019); I, You, We, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2013); Pop Life: Art in a Material World, Tate Modern, London (2009); ART IN AMERICA: 300 Years of Innovation, National Art Museum of China, Beijing (2007); American Art in the Twentieth Century: Painting and Sculpture, Royal Academy, London (1993); Committed to Print, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1988); Urban Kisses, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1982); New York/New Wave, P.S.1, New York (1981).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020
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