Keith Haring was an American contemporary and pop artist. His work grew in popularity during the 1980’s in New York City.
Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading Pennsylvania. He was raised in a religious household by his parents Johan Haring and Allen Haring. His father was an engineer and an amateur cartoonist who encouraged Keith to become interested in art. They would spend time creating drawings together, Keith’s main influences at the time being; Doctor Seuss, Walt Disney, and Looney Tunes.
Haring became a part of the Jesus Movement in his young teenage years, but ultimately abandoned his religious roots. He hitchhiked across America and making some cash to spend on drugs by selling vintage T-Shirts. From 1976 to 1978 Haring studied commercial art at Pittsburgh’s Ivy School of Professional Art, but came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for him. Haring was inspired by The Art Spirit by Robert Henri to leave school and focus on his own art. Afterward Haring started a job at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in maintenance. During his time there he was able to explore art by Jackson Pollock, Mark Tobey, and Jean Dubuffet. He was highly influenced by a lecture given by Christo Claude who later introduced him to the idea of involving people in his artwork. Haring’s first one-man exhibition was at the Center for the Arts in Pittsburgh during 1978. Afterwards he moved to New York to study painting at the School of Visual Arts. During this time he was a busboy at Danceteria, a nightclub in the city. He studied with Bill Beckley, a conceptual artist, on semiotics and all the possibilities of performance art.
Haring started creating chalk drawings on black, unused advertisement backboards in the subway station. He thought of the subway as his “laboratory” where he could experiment with little judgement of the outcome. He started to organize exhibition at Club 57, a nightclub in the East Village, in 1980. During this time the “Radiant Baby” which was a simple depiction of an infant crawling on all fours with “rays” surrounding it became his recognized symbol.The bright and bold colors and lines of his pieces portrayed life and a strong sense of unity. Haring participated in the Times Square Exhibition where he drew human faces and animals for the first time in public. The same time he started experimenting with several different mediums. He collaged clippings of headlines from the New York Post, painted found objects, and sketched out his original chalk works on black paper. He established friendships with new and upcoming artists such as Futura 2000, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and even musical artist, Madonna. He brought light to more sensitive topics in his works such as a piece titled “Rebel With Many Causes” which criticizes the public avoidance of social issues such as AIDS, designing a Free South Africa poster, or his mural “Crack is Wack” discouraging the use of cocaine.
Haring met Andy Warhol in 1984 after his second exhibition in New York City. The two bonded over their mutual love for Walt Disney. Haring even created works inspired by Andy such as “Andy Mouse” Where he combined his two idols to create a Mickey Mouse like character with Andy Warhol’s’ hair and face. The same year he visited Australia and painted wall murals in Melbourne and Sydney. He then received a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria along with Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Minneapolis, and Manhattan. He painted a mural on the Berlin Wall as well as the lobby of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Haring painted with a very energetic style writing, “I am becoming much more aware of movement. The importance of movement is intensified when a painting becomes a performance. The performance (the act of painting) becomes as important as the resulting painting.”
From 1982 to 1989 he was featured in more than one hundred solo and group exhibits along with more than fifty public artworks in charities, hospitals, day care centers, and orphanages. In 1989 He established the Keith Haring foundation to provide funding to children’s and AIDS organizations. The goal of the foundation is to continue to expand his heritage while supporting arts and educational institutions by funding exhibitions, publications, and education programs. The foundation as well provides funding and grants to nonprofit organizations that educate and inform disadvantaged individuals about HIV and AIDS. Haring was openly gay and promoted safe sex, but was ultimately diagnosed with AIDS. He passed away on February 16, 1990 due to AIDS. Madonna announced the first New York show of her Blond Ambition World Tour would be dedicated to Haring’s Memory. All proceeds of her ticket sales went to AIDS charities. Keith Haring, along with several other individuals, is commemorated in the AIDS memorial quilt founded by Cleve Jones.