Keith Haring (1958 – 1990)
With a style that is as singular as it is approachable, Keith Haring is among the most iconic artists of the late 20th century.
Keith Haring was born in Kutztown, Pennsylvania in 1958 and showed an interest in the arts at a very early age. With his father’s encouragement, Haring spent considerable time drawing and doodling. His earliest artistic influences came not from an exposure to high art or childhood visits to museums, but rather from Saturday mornings spent with the creations of Walt Disney, Charles Shultz, and Dr. Seuss. The lasting influence of these cartoonists is plain to see in Haring’s mature works.
After graduating from high school, Haring enrolled at Pittsburgh's Ivy School of Professional Art in 1976 with the intention of studying Commercial Art. He quickly lost interest in his studies and in 1978, inspired by Robert Henri’s book The Art Spirit (1923), a lively rejection of academic art, Haring left school to focus independently on his own art.
In a fateful turn, Haring was invited that same year to mount his first solo exhibition at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center after the center’s first choice canceled. His confidence buoyed by the reception this first exhibition received, Haring decided to relocate to New York City to further his artistic growth and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts.
Keith Haring threw himself headlong into the alternative arts scene that was beginning to emerge in the streets, alleys and clubs of Manhattan’s East Village. Living and working amid the downtown arts community brought him into the orbits of such notables as Kenny Scharf, Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol – all of whom became Haring’s close friends and colleagues. He found the perfect incubator/laboratory for the development of his artistic style in the subway stations of NYC. Drawing in white chalk on the black advertising backboards he used as his canvas, Haring developed the minimalist, almost primal, language of dancing forms, barking dogs and radiant babies that would become the hallmarks of his oeuvre.
By 1982, Haring had established himself as an artist on the rise in the crowded NYC scene. That year, he secured his first exclusive exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, which was followed by his participation in Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany, as well as in the Public Art Fund's "Messages to the Public." Between 1982 and 1989, Haring created over 50 works of public art in dozens of cities around the globe, from the parks of New York City to the Berlin Wall.
Haring’s art is immediately recognizable by his use of bold, flat lines to create two-dimensional renderings of people, animals, and everyday objects, presented in either stark back and white or adorned with saturated pops of color. Haring’s work touched on themes of love, sex, violence and social injustice, all conveyed through seemingly innocuous motifs of interconnected human (or canine) forms punctuated with totems of shared social symbolism: radiating hearts, blaring television sets, and a fair number of genitalia. His creations present bold social commentaries, from calling for an end to South African apartheid to bringing attention to the crack epidemic ravaging American cities at the time. His later work focused extensively on expressing acceptance for the LGBT community and calling attention to the plight of those suffering, as he did, with HIV/AIDS. Keith Haring passed in 1990 and is commemorated in the AIDS memorial quilt.
Works by Keith Haring can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Bass Museum in Miami, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. His public works adorn buildings and parks in several cities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, from his native Kutztown, PA to the exterior of the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, France. The secondary market for works by Keith Haring remains strong nearly 30 years after his death, with limited screen prints by the artist regularly realizing five-figure prices and his more significant paintings commanding several million.