Keith Haring

Keith Haring

Keith Haring was born in  1958 in Pennsylvania. He approached the world of art and drawing at a very young age, thanks to the influence of his father, a cartoonist. Soon he showed a great interest in comics and in their characters.

Keith Haring succeeds in putting into practice the theoretical bases of street art. Political and social themes, thanks to him, return to occupy the role of undisputed protagonists of the works of art. 

Unfortunately his career was brief because the artist fall ill with AIDS due to which he died on February 16, 1990. After discovering that he was ill, in 1989 the artist decided to give life at the Keith Haring Foundation,still operating today, with the aim of providing assistance and help to both children and organizations involved in the fight against AIDS.

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      Keith Haring: Biography

      Keith Haring was a renowned street artist and activist who revolutionized Pop art with his colorful and expressive graffiti. He was born in Pennsylvania on May 4, 1958, and showed a passion for art and comics since his childhood, inspired by his father, who was a cartoonist. He studied graphic design for advertising at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, but dropped out in 1978 and moved to New York, where he enrolled at the School of Visual Art

      There, he found his artistic voice and his signature style, influenced by the underground culture of the city, the social movements of the time, and the works of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He began to draw on the blank spaces of the subway walls, using chalk to create spontaneous and dynamic images that captured the attention and imagination of the public. 

      In the fervent artistic climate of the 1980s, the step from the walls of New York to international recognition is short. He starts working in many cities around the world, both in America and in Europe, and also in Australia.

      He creates murals, sculptures, installations, and exhibitions, that attract the attention and admiration of the public and the critics. He also collaborates with other artists, institutions, and organizations, that share his vision and his values. He becomes a global phenomenon, and his art reaches millions of people. At this point he gets to know artists and celebrities including David LaChapelle, Annie Leibovitz, Grace Jones, Yoko Ono, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the timeless king of Pop Art Andy Warhol, consecrating himself so to the full-fledged Haring artist. He establishes friendships and partnerships with them, and he exchanges ideas and influences with them. He also participates in various events and projects, that showcase his talent and his charisma. He becomes a part of the cultural and artistic scene of his time, and he influences and inspires many other artists and creators.

      His graffiti became a symbol of the urban energy and the social issues of the 1980s, such as AIDS, drug abuse, sexuality, religion, war, and nuclear threat. He also exhibited his works in galleries and museums, collaborated with other artists and celebrities, and created public murals around the world. He used his art as a tool for activism and education, raising awareness and funds for various causes. 

      Haring died of AIDS-related complications on February 16, 1990, at the age of 31. He left behind a legacy of art that continues to inspire and influence generations of artists and audiences. Nonetheless, after discovering that he was ill, in 1989 the artist decided to give life to the Keith Haring Foundation, still operating today, to provide assistance and help to both children and organizations involved in the fight against AIDS. He wanted to use his art and his fame to make a difference and to help those who were suffering and marginalized. He wanted to leave a legacy of art and love and to inspire and empower others to do the same.

      Keith Haring: The Street Artist and Pop Art Pioneer

      The figure of Keith Haring is thus consecrated as an artist: as a painter Keith Haring and, above all as a street artist, he will have immense success. He is recognized as one of the most influential and innovative artists of his generation and as one of the pioneers of street art. He is also admired for his courage and his activism, as he used his art to raise awareness and to support various causes, such as the anti-nuclear movement, the anti-apartheid movement, the gay rights movement, and the fight against AIDS.

      Keith Haring was a revolutionary form of expression that challenged the conventional boundaries of art and society. Haring used the walls of the city and the subway stations as his canvases, creating a type of art that was public, accessible, and provocative

      What Haring cared about the most for his art was to make it economically accessible, as it was visually accessible to whoever walked in the streets of many world cities where his works were painted. He believed that art should be for everyone and that everyone should be able to enjoy and appreciate it. He also believed that art should be a tool for communication and education and that it should be used to spread positive and meaningful messages. He also believed that art should be a source of fun and pleasure and that it should be used to celebrate and honor life.

      He rejected the elitism and selectivity of the art system, and instead embraced the diversity and creativity of the street culture. He also used his art to communicate his messages, often centered on committed themes, such as human rights, social justice, and AIDS awareness, to as many people as possible. He wanted to create an art that was within everyone’s reach and that did not make distinctions between high art and low art, as art institutions did instead.

      Keith Haring Art Influences 

      Haring’s art was largely inspired by the trends and social-political issues of the time, particularly those experienced in New York City where the artist resided; from the beats and rhythm of hip-hop music, which was growing in popularity at the time, to themes such as AIDS, drug abuse, sexuality, religion, war, nuclear threat.

      Haring’s approach, however, was hardly unmoored from art-historical sources. The publicly staged nature of Christo’s installations and the pictographic compositions of the Belgian abstractionist Pierre Alechinsky were major influences. In addition to being impressed by the innovation and energy of his contemporaries, Haring was also inspired by the work of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Robert Henri’s manifesto The Art Spirit, which asserted the fundamental independence of the artist. 

      He was influenced by artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring, and he also collaborated with them. He was also influenced by the culture and the people of New York, where he lived and worked for most of his career. His art is also highly sought after by collectors and fans, who appreciate his originality and his authenticity

      Keith Haring: Artworks, Style, Subjects

      One of the most iconic subjects of Keith Haring's artworks is the so-called “figures”. These are simple and essential human shapes, with thick black outlines and bright colors, that appear in many of his paintings, prints, and drawings. The figures are inspired by the graffiti found in prehistoric caves, and they represent the primitive and universal language of art. The figures also convey complex and committed messages, such as the silence and the stigma around AIDS, a disease that affected the artist and many of his friends. The figures are the artist’s signature symbol, and they make his artworks easily recognizable and accessible to everyone.

      Another subject that often appears in Keith Haring's artworks is the dog. The dog is a reference to Anubis, the Egyptian god of death, who had the body of a man and the head of a jackal. The dog symbolizes the contrast between life and death, a theme that was very present in the artist’s mind, especially after his diagnosis with AIDS. The dog is also a sign of aggression and violence, as it is often shown attacking the figures or barking loudly. The dog represents the dark and dangerous side of the world, that the artist wanted to expose and denounce.

      The theme of religion is also recurrent in Keith Haring artworks, usually depicted by a cross. The artist grew up in a very religious family, that tried to impart him Christian teachings. However, he soon rejected the narrow and antiquated mentality of Christianity, especially because of his homosexuality, a condition that was always denied by the Church. The cross is a symbol of his rebellion and his critique of the religious institutions, that he saw as oppressive and hypocritical. The cross is also a symbol of his suffering and his hope, as he faced his illness and his mortality.

      The subject of the crowd is central in Keith Haring's artworks, and it has a double meaning. On the positive side, the crowd represents the strength and the solidarity of the people, who are united by the same cause or the same passion. The crowd also reflects the diversity and the creativity of the street culture, that the artist embraced and celebrated.

      On the negative side, the crowd represents the mass media and the mass consumption, that the artist criticized and rejected. The crowd also refers to the collective massacres and the wars, that the artist witnessed and was shocked by, such as the Vietnam War.

      The nuclear power plants are another subject that we can notice in Keith Haring's artworks. The artist was always unfavorable to nuclear power plants, and he depicted them with huge snakes coming out of them. The snakes symbolize the monstrosity and the danger of these nuclear power plants, that he saw as a threat to the environment and to humanity. The snakes also represent the evil and the corruption of the political and economic powers, that the artist wanted to challenge and resist.

      These are some of the main subjects and themes of Keith Haring artworks, that show his vision and his courage as an artist. He used his graffiti art to communicate his messages, to support his causes, and to inspire his fans. He created artworks that were public, accessible, and provocative, and that challenged the conventional boundaries of art and society.

      Keith Haring Style

      In this renewed artistic climate, Keith Haring succeeds masterfully in putting into practice the theoretical bases of street art. With him and with other artists, political and social themes, often uncomfortable and very strong, return to occupy the role of undisputed protagonists of the works of art. These themes are conveyed by the artist through the use of a style made of stylized and essential figures with thick black outlines in contrast with the colorful characters. His style is simple yet powerful, and it captures the attention and the imagination of the viewers. His style is also universal, as it transcends the barriers of language and culture, and speaks to the common humanity of the people.

      He often used the powerful color red in his work as well as the then-new medium of paint markers to create his distinctive lines and shapes. He also incorporated elements of ancient world symbols such as Eastern Mandalas or Australian Aboriginal art, as well as contemporary graffiti art and tags in his work. Some of his most famous works include the Crack is Wack mural in Harlem, the Berlin Wall mural, and the Radiant Baby symbol

      The stylized men recall puppets that seem to come directly from a primitive world, coming back to life, in all their simplicity in the contemporary frenzy of the big cities. They represent the innocence and the joy of life, but also the vulnerability and the fragility of the human condition. They are often depicted in dynamic and expressive poses, such as dancing, jumping, flying, or embracing. They also interact with other elements, such as animals, hearts, stars, crosses, or rays of light. They convey a sense of movement and energy, but also of harmony and balance.

      Keith Haring Street Art is a testament to the power and the beauty of art and to the vision and the courage of the artist. He left behind a legacy of art that continues to inspire and challenge people today.

      His art was a celebration of life, but also a critique of the injustices and the problems of his time. He was not afraid to express his opinions and his emotions through his art, and he inspired many people to do the same.

      His works are displayed in many museums and public spaces, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Centre Pompidou.

      Keith Haring: Graffiti

      Untitled (Heart) - 1982

      Untitled (Heart) - 1982 is a painting that depicts two men dancing and holding a big red heart that beats under the notes of love. The painting is part of Haring’s series of works that celebrate love in all its forms and expressions, regardless of gender, race, or social status.

      The painting is made with acrylic on vinyl, a material that Haring often used for his large-scale murals and public projects. The painting measures 180 x 180 inches (457 x 457 cm) and is composed of two panels that form a square. The painting is characterized by Haring’s signature style of simple and colorful figures, drawn with thick black outlines and filled with vibrant patterns.

      The painting shows Haring’s influence through Pop art, graffiti, and dance music, as well as his involvement in the social and political issues of his time. Haring was an activist for peace, human rights, and AIDS awareness, and he used his art as a tool to communicate his messages to a wide audience. 

      “I don’t think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination, and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating.”

      The painting is also a reflection of Haring’s personal life and sexuality. Haring was openly gay and he had several relationships with men, including the DJ Juan Dubose and the artist Juan Rivera. He also had many friends in the LGBTQ+ community, such as the singer Madonna and the photographer Andy Warhol. Haring wanted to express his love and support for his friends and lovers, as well as to challenge the stigma and discrimination that they faced in society.

       “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.”

      The painting is currently part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it is displayed in contemporary galleries. The painting is one of the most popular and recognizable works by Haring, and it has been reproduced on posters, postcards, t-shirts, and other merchandise.

      FREE SOUTH AFRICA - 1985

      FREE SOUTH AFRICA - 1985 is a poster created by the American artist Keith Haring to protest against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Apartheid was a system of racial segregation and discrimination that lasted from 1948 to 1994 and oppressed the black majority and other non-white groups in the country. Haring was an activist and a supporter of social justice causes, and he used his art to raise awareness and express solidarity with oppressed people around the world.

      The poster depicts a struggle between a large black figure and a smaller white figure, who has a rope around the black figure’s neck. The rope symbolizes the oppression and violence that the white minority inflicted on the black majority, and the unequal power relations between them. The black figure is about to crush the white figure, who is marked with a red X. The red X signifies the rejection and resistance of the black figure and the imminent defeat of the white figure. The poster expresses Haring’s hope for the liberation of black people from white domination and his vision of a free and equal South Africa.

      The poster is part of a series of three prints that Haring made on the same theme, using his signature style of bold lines, bright colors, and simple symbols. Haring’s style was influenced by graffiti, pop art, and comic books, and he aimed to create a universal visual language that could communicate with a wide audience. Haring distributed around 20,000 copies of the poster in New York City in 1986, as part of his activist work for social justice. He also donated some of the proceeds from the sale of the prints to the anti-apartheid movement. Haring’s poster was one of the many artistic and cultural expressions that contributed to the global campaign against apartheid, and the eventual end of the regime in 1994.

      Berlin Wall - 1986

      BERLIN WALL - 1986 by Keith Haring is a mural that covers a 300-meter long section of the Berlin Wall, the concrete barrier that divided East and West Germany during the Cold War. The mural was painted by the American artist Keith Haring in October 1986, at the invitation of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which is located near the famous border crossing between the two sides of the city.

      The mural depicts a series of human figures in the colors of the German flag: yellow, red, and black. The figures are connected by their hands and feet, forming a chain that stretches along the wall. The mural symbolizes the desire for unity and peace among the German people, as well as the absurdity and cruelty of the wall that separates them. Haring said that his mural was "an attempt to psychologically destroy the wall by painting it".

      His Berlin Wall mural was one of his most famous and controversial works, as it was illegal to paint on the wall and it was soon covered by other graffiti artists. Haring hoped that his mural would be temporary and that the wall would eventually be torn down. He wrote in his diary in 1987 that 

      "It is temporary and its permanence is unimportant. Its existence is already established".

      The Berlin Wall was finally demolished in 1989, after the collapse of the communist regime in East Germany. The mural by Haring was partially preserved and is now part of the East Side Gallery, a collection of artworks on the remaining sections of the wall. The mural is a testament to the power of art to challenge oppression and inspire hope.

      Crack is Wack - 1986

      CRACK IS WACK - 1986 by Keith Haring is a mural that covers a wall of an abandoned handball court in East Harlem, New York City. The mural serves as a warning against crack cocaine use, which was rampant in major cities across the United States during the mid to late 1980s.

      The mural depicts two large figures, one on each side of the wall, with their heads split open and their brains exposed. The figures are surrounded by smaller images of skulls, snakes, syringes, and the words "CRACK IS WACK". The mural is painted in bright colors of yellow, orange, red, and black, creating a striking contrast with the gray concrete wall.

      The mural was inspired by Haring's personal experience of losing his friend and studio assistant Benny to crack addiction. Haring wanted to create a public message to raise awareness and prevent others from falling into the same trap. He also wanted to challenge the government's policies and penalties on drug use, which he considered ineffective and oppressive.

      Haring painted the mural without legal permission on June 27, 1986. He was arrested by the police and faced potential jail time and fines. However, he received support from the media and the public, who appreciated his art and activism. The mural was eventually put under the protection of the City Department of Parks and still exists today as part of New York City's iconic public art.

      Rebel With Many Causes - 1989

      REBEL WITH MANY CAUSES - 1989 by Keith Haring is a painting that shows three figures with their eyes, ears, and mouths covered, respectively. The painting is based on the proverb "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil", which is often used to describe the attitude of ignoring or avoiding unpleasant or controversial issues.

      Haring used this painting to criticize the indifference and silence of the public and the authorities towards the many social problems that he cared about, such as the AIDS epidemic, racism, homophobia, nuclear war, environmental destruction, and human rights violations The painting is also a reflection of Haring's frustration and anger at the lack of support and recognition for his art and his causes. He felt that his work was often misunderstood or ignored by the mainstream art world and the media. He wrote in his journal in 1989: 

      "I am becoming more and more angry and bitter and cynical. I feel like I have been used and my work has been exploited" 

      The painting is part of a series of works that Haring created in 1989, which he called "The Last Rainforest". The series was inspired by his visit to Brazil, where he witnessed the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the oppression of the indigenous people. The series was also influenced by his awareness of his mortality and his desire to leave a legacy of hope and love. He wrote in his journal: 

      "I want to make paintings that look as if they were made by a child. I want to make paintings that are simple and clear and that express an idea that is also simple and clear".

      Tuttomondo - 1989

      1989 TUTTOMONDO by Keith Haring is a mural that covers the rear wall of the Sant'Antonio Abate church in Pisa, Italy. It is one of the last public works by the American artist before his death from AIDS-related complications in 1990. It is also one of the few outdoor public works created by Haring for permanent display.

      The mural depicts 30 human and animal figures in bright colors of yellow, red, black, and green. The figures are connected by their hands and feet, forming a chain that symbolizes the harmony and unity of the world. The mural also expresses Haring's social and political views on various issues, such as ecology, peace, communication, motherhood, and life.

      The mural was inspired by Haring's visit to Brazil, where he witnessed the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the oppression of the indigenous people. He also wanted to create a tribute to the city of Pisa and its culture. He chose the title Tuttomondo, which means "all world" in Italian, to convey his vision of a global community.

      Haring painted the mural in June 1989, in only four days, with the help of local volunteers and students. He used spray cans and rollers on a rough surface, creating a striking contrast with the gray concrete wall. He also documented the process of making the mural in two videos: L'Arte in diretta, a 5-minute clip, and Tuttomondo, a 27-minute documentary interview.

      The mural was well received by the public and the media, who appreciated Haring's art and activism. The mural was also controversial and provocative, as it challenged the authority of the Italian government and the Catholic Church, which considered Haring's art as "decadent" and "subversive".

      The mural is still preserved today as part of Pisa's iconic public art. It is a testament to the power of art to inspire hope and change.

      Keith Haring: Clothing

      Strongly believing that art should be for everyone, not just for the elite, Keith Haring opened The Pop Shop, a store in Soho where he sold clothing and accessories featuring his iconic designs. He wanted to make his art more accessible and affordable, and to create a community around his work. He also wanted to challenge the traditional notions of art and commerce, and to show that art can be part of everyday life. He created a pop culture phenomenon, that inspired millions of people with his art and his messages.


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