Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Date of Birth: May 4, 1958
Date of Death: February 16, 1990
Place of Birth: Reading, Pennsylvania
Occupation: Visual Artist
Movement: Pop Art, Graffiti Art
Education: School for Professional Art, Pittsburgh; School of Visual Arts, New York City
Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in May 1958. When he was a child, his family relocated to Kutztown in the same state. He was interested in drawing from an early age and learnt cartooning from his father; Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney were further inspiration. Completing his school education in 1976, he enrolled in School for Professional Art in Pittsburgh. Realising that commercial art was not his true calling, he dropped out of college after two semesters, continuing to work on his art and exhibiting for the first time in Pittsburgh in 1978.
Move to New York
Haring joined the School of Visual Arts (SVA), when he shifted residence to New York City in 1978. Here, he found a vibrant and active alternate art community running parallel to the world of museums and galleries. He now participated in exhibitions and performances held at alternate venues with great enthusiasm.
The influence of Pierre Alechinsky, Jean Dubuffet, and William Burroughs, and of Robert Henri’s manifesto, the “Art Spirit,” had a deep impact on Haring. His contemporaries, who showed a new energy and verve within the art scene, also inspired him and pushed him towards his own style based on the line possessing prime importance in any drawing.
Haring was also greatly influenced by Andy Warhol’s synthesis of life and art, and focused on producing art that was truly public in spirit.
While still a student at SVA, Haring started to experiment with video, performance art, and installations. In 1980, quite by chance, he found his most effective medium in a subway station, where the unused advertising panel covered in matte black paper sparked off a great idea. With this as a base, he started to draw with white chalk. Through the subway which became his laboratory, he would create art that allowed him to reach out to the public.
Post the 1980s, Haring achieved great international recognition and took part in over 100 exhibitions. With his first solo exhibition in New York at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981, and a hugely popular showing in 1982 at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, he also went on to show his work at Documenta 7 in Kassel in 1982. During the 1980s, he also expanded his range to produce backdrops for theater and advertising campaigns for Absolut Vodka and Swatch, the watch company.
In 1986, Haring opened a Pop Shop selling toys, T-shirts, buttons, and posters that had images of his work on them, and these were priced low to allow the public wider access to his work. In spite of criticism from the art world, he stood by his vision.
Later Life, Death, and Legacy
Haring was openly gay, and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. His later works also bear great imagination, vibrancy and liveliness, in spite of the fact that he and many of his friends were dealing with the disease. In response to dealing with AIDS, he set up the Keith Haring Foundation that provided funding to AIDS organisations and children’s programs. The foundation also expanded the viewership of his work.
Haring died due to complications related to AIDS in February, 1990.
In May, 1990, a memorial service was held at the cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, in Haring’s memory. Over a thousand people attended.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam