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From an underground street artist to an international superstar, Keith Haring left his footprints in the sand of time. Although he is no more, his works live on. In this article, we will examine his life and the impact of his works.
Who was Keith Haring?
He was a social activist and artist who painted colorful pop artworks, demonstrating the lively hip-hop spirit in nightclub scenes of the 1980s in New York. He first came to the limelight when his stylish chalk drawings hit the subway stations in New York. The sprawling graffiti art in the subway drew the attention of people in the established world of art.
When Keith’s career flourished, he started producing public murals on a large scale. He also displayed his works in galleries and museums in different parts of the world. Most of his works promote social activism especially racial equality and AIDS awareness.
A Brief Biography of Haring, Keith
Keith made a long-lasting impact in the world of art within the short period of his career.
Education and Early Life
Keith was born in Reading on May 4th, 1958 to Joan and Allen Haring. He spent his childhood close to Kutztown where he learned primary cartooning skills from his father. This projected his drawing talent and he drew more inspiration from the works of established artists like Charles Schulz and Dr. Seuss.
After high school, Keith went further to study commercial art at the Ivy School of Professional Art, Pittsburgh. He studied for only 2 semesters, then dropped out and decided to discontinue his career in the field of commercial art. He relocated to New York in 1978 and enrolled in the Visual Arts School.
He quickly found his way into the East Village underground art scene where he met and became friends with other artists, Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat. They also became big players in contemporary art. In 1980, Keith transformed various empty advertising spaces on the walls of the subway station into art.
Consequently, within 5 years, he created hundreds of white chalk drawings on dark matte paper panels. The Police in the New York division arrested him several times for vandalism.
Keith rose to fame in 1981 when he organized his first exhibition. He did it all by himself and it was held at the Westbeth Painters’ Space, Manhattan. The next year, he held another solo exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, SoHo.
Between 1981 and 1986, Keith produced around 50 public artworks in different parts of the world. He also created them for orphanages, hospitals, and charities. He established his retail shop, Pop Shop, in SoHo where he sold magnets, T-shirts, posters, and other materials that displayed his artwork.
In 1988, Keith was diagnosed with AIDS. After this discovery, he established a foundation in his name to raise funds for children’s programs and AIDS organizations. He finally died due to complications related to the disease on February 16th, 1990. He was 31 years old when he died.
To date, his artworks have been seen in over 100 exhibitions. He also collaborated with other cultural icons such as Grace Jones, Yoko Ono, Madonna, William Burroughs and Andy Warhol. You can still find his artworks in museums and public locations, including the Chicago Art Institute, Paris center Pompidou, and Museum of Modern Art, New York. You can click on https://www.bozar.be/en/magazine/162327-get-to-know-keith-haring-in-5-facts to know more about Keith Haring.
The Attributes of Haring Keith’s Work
One appeal of Keith’s work is the energy it exudes and its deceptive effortless appearance. The thematic and stylistic attributes of his work are:
He was a strong advocate and social activist for anti-racism, AIDS awareness, and LGBTQ communities. Many of his artworks touched these subjects.
His works were colorful and cartoony. He typically used very few colors that had high saturated bright hues.
He incorporated similar images as a signature into various art pieces. These images include people who had TV sets as heads, flying saucers, giant hearts, barking dog, and radiant baby, his trademark – an image of a baby who is crawling within a circle of lines.
Abstract Forms and Tight Patterns
His trademark style is a set of tight patterns with interlocking human-like figures and abstract imagery.
Vinyl Tarpaulin Canva
When he first started his career, he painted on vinyl tarpaulins, a material that street dancers placed on the floor before performances. Keith did not use traditional canvas until about 1985.
Keith loved listening to hip-hop songs while creating his pieces. He used the beats as inspiration to paint lines that were bold and rhythmic. They portrayed movement and bursts of energy.
The Famous Artworks of Keith Haring
The following artworks are examples of Keith’s signature style, as well as his commitment to ensuring positive change in society.
The Wall Mural of Berlin (1986)
Keith painted a mural of 300 meters on the Berlin Wall. It featured the colors on the German flag and interlocking human-like figures. This was a representation of unity between West and East Germany.
Ignorance Equals Fear (1989)
The piece featured 3 figures – one with covered eyes, the second with covered ears, and the third covered its mouth. They were surrounded by the inscription, “Fight AIDS, Act Up”; “Silence = Death”; “Ignorance = Fear”. Keith used this piece to call out the failure of the American government to promote awareness of AIDS.
Freedom for South Africa (1985)
Keith used this piece to talk about the racist and oppressive power system of the SA government. It features a big black figure attempting to stomp on a little white figure who has a leash on the neck of the black figure.
The difference in size is an irony of how the whites (minority) were oppressing the blacks (majority). Keith printed and shared about twenty thousand of the painting’s poster versions all over New York. He did so to gain the support of the people for the movement. You can click here to see more of his artworks.
The life and artworks of Keith Haring portrayed love for humanity by standing up for what is right. Keith never saw evil and kept quiet. He used his work to communicate with the government. Although his career was short-lived, he maximized his time.