Born “sunny-side up” in 1958, Keith Haring came into the world with a unique perspective, and through it he transformed the artworld in ways only he could imagine. As a child his love of drawing was inspired by his father and the art of Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss. The public and interactive nature of artist Christo’s captured Haring’s attention as a young man and with the life as art influence of pop artist, Andy Warhol his palate was set. Keith Haring was indelibly drawn to a career of creating truly public art.
Whether playful or provocative, socially conscious or sublimely joyful, Keith Haring’s distinctive style and vibrantly engaging artwork has made an enduring impact from 1978 when he came to New York City. His “laboratory” of ideas were the subway walls where he first started doing chalk drawings. Haring always drew freehand; he never sketched out his images before he started. His art happened in the moment. Haring’s bold line imagery quickly became recognizable, the first being his iconic “radiant baby” which he returned to often.
1982’s “untitled” is seen as Haring’s first bold statement about homosexuality
In 1981, Haring had his first New York gallery solo show and his first international mural commission in Australia in 1984, one of more than fifty around the world during his lifetime. Further “breaking down the barriers between high and low art.” in April 1986 Haring opened Pop Shop, selling mass produced works as poster, t-shirts, buttons etc. When highly criticized for “the commercialization” of his work, he responded, “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…”
Decades before identity politics, or social warriors, being woke were trending, Keith Haring was all those with an artist’s voice and an international platform. Much of the accessibility of his work can be attributed to his figured having no age, race, or identity. They are simply human beings.
Haring’s art also reflected his acute social awareness of global issues like sexuality, Apartheid, the crack epidemic, and safe sex.
Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he set up the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989 charged with funding HIV/AIDS services, especially for children, and also providing imagery for awareness programs and organizations, such as ACTUP.
Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications February 16, 1990; he was 31 years old. More than 1,000 people attended his memorial service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City where he was a parishioner. His final work, “The Life of Christ” sits in the Cathedral’s Chapel of St. Columba.
Keith Haring’s panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt is currently on display at the Cathedral until November.
“My contribution to the world is my ability to draw. I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can. Drawing is still the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It lives through magic.” Keith Haring
Learn more about Keith Haring Foundation HERE
theOUTfront recommends, The Universe of Keith Haring
If you’re visiting New York City for World Pride, stop into the LGBT Center on West 13th Street to see Keith Haring’s mural, “Once Upon a Time.” Painted in 1989, it encircles an entire former bathroom, now meeting on the second floor and is open to the public.
Previous posts from theOUTfront series, “Generations of Pride”
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