Keith Haring was best known for his graffiti-like painting, initially on the black paper used to cover discontinued billboard advertisements in the New York subway. After a feverish 1980’s style career of surging popular success and grudging critical attention, Haring died of AIDS, February 16 1990, at 31.
Art is for Everyone
I have been a fan of Keith Haring, the young artist who started making chalk drawings on blank advertising panels in New York subway stations that helped spark an international street art movement. I was a teenager in the 80s in New York when he had his heyday. I remember in 1986 Haring subway drawing when I travelled on the trains, and it was the first time I realised his mandate, “that art is for everyone.”
Haring conveyed the Human Condition
Making sense of Haring’s signs was easy; they quickly communicated important human events; birth, love, sex and war. Recalling Star Wars movies of the late 1970s and early 80s, special effects technology joined the mix. His art, babies, dancers, TV sets, computers and spaceships symbolically radiant with the mantra “may the force be with you,” summed up the world according to Haring.
Haring’s art was the perfect reflection of its time. Break dancing was central to his imagery. He made many figures that twirled on their heads. A young gay artist that found his way in New York during the heady days of the aids epidemic, Haring made art that mirrored the era’s kind of free-floating sexuality and homosexuality. He grew up in the clubs. It was all music, dancing and sex.
Art exuding energy
Haring refined his collection of signs with skill and speed. Stilted dogs painted on paper in 1980 and clunky babies marked on a subway map soon evolved into more confident forms. His images, particularly his barking dog and the “radiant child”, were internationally known.
Haring depicted demons as well as angels. He foresaw an apocalyptic catastrophe — his running monsters and whirling yet orderly lines, brilliantly composed, belong in our technological age. He was not a sentimentalist. He wrote of evil and greed.
The Japanese understood his work.
In Japan, his work was understood. The Japanese responded to it; he felt it was tied to their traditions of the ‘sign’ and the gesture and the concept of the ‘spirit of the line’ evident in Sumi painting and calligraphy.
High and Low Art
What American museum curators initially could not see was Haring’s employment of high and low art. Haring understood clearly that the information age and the camera had blurred the boundaries between high and low art. Haring maintained a friendship with Andy Warhol. Haring provided Warhol access to the alternative scene, which Warhol exploited as a source of inspiration. Haring created the figure of Andy Mouse, based on Mickey Mouse, in 1985. The background is reminiscent of the Stars and Stripes, and the motif of Andy Mouse is supplemented by dollar signs in the ears of the mouse. By combining the Walt Disney product with the Andy Warhol product, Haring accords his friend the same iconic status.
Since a few seasons ago, the Parisian brand Études has used Haring graphics in its work, just before Watanabe in Japan. The creative directors of Études, Aurélien Arbet and Jérémie Egry dug deeper into New York’s New Wave than just its hip-hop music and Kryolan spray cans found on the street. In the 1980s, Haring was a strong voice because of his work on Aids awareness, apartheid, and crack addiction. Somewhere Downtown, a new show at UCCA in Beijing looks at his place in the chaotic city of New York when he first started making art. Chaos and Hope, Haring’s first show at the Nakamura gallery in Japan, is being shown again to mark the gallery’s 15th anniversary.
Keith Haring was a big part of André Heller’s book Luna Luna, about an art theme park in Hamburg in the 1980s. The New York Public Library has more than 100 books with his work in its collection. He wanted his work seen by many people for as long as possible. His work in fashion was an essential part of his plan. Malcolm McLaren was the first to put Keith Haring’s art on the runway. He used it to package his Duck Rock album. Gil Vazquez is glad that Dijon went back to the early archives. She works with HIV and AIDS awareness charities, and black transwomen are some of the most vulnerable people in the community. Haring’s collection with Dijon is still for sale online at places like Farfetch and resale sites, and Basquiat’s art was used in her most recent collection.
Keith Haring was one of the first artists to make art products that people could wear, collect, and buy for a low price. Haring opened the Pop Shop on Lafayette Street to sell clothes, jewellery, toys, and posters. Many people who came to New York would make a point of going there. Haring worked with Artestar’s founder, David Stark. The Valentine’s Day deals at Primark are different from Honey’s story about the clubland, and Stark has worked with Haring on more than 2,000 projects since 1989. His art is still a language we use today (Have We Reached Peak Keith Haring?, 2023).
Keith Haring Foundation
The Keith Haring Foundation was set up in 1989 to raise awareness of Keith Haring’s work and ideas alive, grow them, and keep them safe. It gives money to non-profit groups that help children and groups that teach about AIDS, try to stop it and care for people who have it. Haring also asked the Foundation to keep his artistic memory alive and safe after he died. The Foundation keeps a collection of art and records. It helps arts and education organisations by funding exhibitions, programs, and books that put Haring’s work and ideas in context and explain them.
Have we reached peak Keith Haring? (2023, March 6). Have We Reached Peak Keith Haring? | Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/2605aa4c-780f-4dfe-aaf7-48b16d57ba9c
Kolossa, A., Haring, K. (2004). Haring. Germany: Taschen.
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