Who was Keith Haring?
Keith Haring was an American artist and social activist. He had a vital role in popularising graffiti art work. He learnt the basics of drawing from his cartoonist father. His first solo art exhibition was at Pittsburgh Art and Craft Centre. While studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York, he experimented with various art forms of video and performance art. He also explored the interconnection of images to hone his drawing skill. In New York, he came to know about graffiti work, a new form of art. Gradually, he got recognition for his underground art works. He published his works of graffiti in the form of a book, “Art in Transit: Subway Drawings”. His graffiti works consisted images of simple objects like pyramids, human figures, television sets, animals and babies. He utilized graffiti for his various social activisms. His artistic creation helped to promote literacy. Crack Is Wack is his anti drug mural. He got the invitation from the authorities of the Bordeaux Contemporary Art Museum in France and the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands to showcase his creativity. Being an AIDs victim, he devoted time to spread awareness about AIDS in later period of his life.
Childhood & Early Life
Keith Haring was born to cartoonist father Allen Haring and mother Joan Haring in Reading, Pennsylvania, United States. He also had three sisters. He developed his love towards art since his early childhood days.
As a child, he used to spent time for drawing activity along with his father. He completed his graduation from Kutztown Area Senior High School in 1976. From 1976 to 1978, he attended The Ivy School of Professional Art, Pittsburgh to study commercial art.
During this time, he organized a solo exhibition of his art work at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Centre. After spending two semesters, when he lost interest in commercial art, he switched to Fine Arts.
After his arrival in New York City in 1978, he took admission at the School of Visual Art to study semiotics. In New York, he became acquainted with a new alternative art community.
This art community introduced him with graffiti, a new style of art that flourished in the downtown streets and places like the subways. During this time, he befriended with several artists, musicians and graffiti writers.
Impressed by the creativity of this community, he started participating in several art exhibitions. While attending the School of Visual Art, he experimented with video, installation and collage form to improve his drawing skill.
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In 1980, he started creating drawings with white chalk on the matte black paper that he found over the unused advertising panels in a subway station. From 1980 to 1985, he created numerous art works in a number of subway stations.
His graffiti reflected his creativity and ideas through presenting simple lines. Sometimes, he used to create forty subway drawings per day. Gradually, his creation of graffiti work gained popularity among New York commuters.
He organized his first solo exhibition in New York at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981. In the following year, he exhibited his art work at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery.
He also took part in several international survey exhibitions which included the Sao Paolo Biennial, the Whitney Biennial and Documenta 7 in Kassel. At that time, he worked for an animation project for the billboard of Spectacolor in Times Square.
He even designed sets and backdrops of several theatres and clubs. One of his projects for renowned brands included creating watch designs for Swatch. Brands like Absolut vodka used his art work during its advertising campaign.
From 1982 to 1989, he produced more than 50 public artworks for charities, hospitals and orphanages as part of his social service. In 1986, his sculpture of Blue Curling Dog was displayed for a brief period at Dag Hammarsjold Plaza in Manhattan.
He started the Pop Shop, a retail store located in Soho in April 1986. This shop sells products like toys, posters and T-shirts designed by him. The interior of this shop was designed with his creation of white mural.
The aim of this shop was to introduce his art work to common people and to sell products designed by him at an affordable price. He faced severe criticism for marketing his own art works from several personalities of the art industry.
He created a mural for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris has a mural on the exterior part of the building. He produced this mural in 1987.
In 1987, he created a large mural at the Carmine Recreation Centre’s outdoor pool situated in Lower Manhattan. Besides working for various art projects, he organized several drawing workshops for children in schools and museums across New York and Europe.
In 1989, he founded the Keith Haring Foundation. It owns intellectual property rights of Haring’s art works. Apart from that, this organization works to provide financial assistance to AIDS organizations and children’s programmes.
In 1986, he created the mural of Crack Is Wack. Through the mural’s kinetic figures and abstract forms, he attempted to raise awareness among youth against the usage of Crack, a type of cocaine.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was gay. In 1988, he was diagnosed with AIDS. In later period of his life, he played active role in raising awareness about the deadly diseases like AIDS.
He passed away on account of AIDS related complications at the age of 31. More than 1000 people attended his funeral service that was organized at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.
In one of his interviews, this talented American artist confessed that while studying in high school, he wanted to become a hippie. For that purpose, he experimented with all kinds of drugs.