Art is for everybody.Keith Haring
That line probably captures the whole essence of Keith Haring‘s art and the principles he stood for. From his humble beginnings on the streets of New York to becoming one of the key artists of the pop art movement, Haring’s meteoric rise to fame and his impressive capacity for work allowed him to achieve so much in so few years. Keith Haring inspired popular culture and created a visual language through the use of signs, symbols, and words to convey his deepest thoughts. Aside from being an artist, Keith was also a social activist and a philanthropist who raised money for many causes throughout his lifetime.
Haring first caught people’s attention with the simple graffiti he drew on the subway platforms of New York in the early 1980s. He made simple drawings of figures, a kaleidoscopic, sharp, jig-sawed mishmash of clean and bright colors so passers-by could quickly identify what they were. The powerful visual message in his drawings was often easily understandable, and other times it was a little more cryptic and open to interpretation.
“I was always totally amazed that the people I would meet while I was doing them were really, really concerned with what they meant. The first thing anyone asked me, no matter how old, no matter who they were, was, ‘What does it mean?’”Keith Haring
The artist quickly found a wider audience and was in many major galleries by the 1980s. His work brought together many disparate groups of people and artists, aligning urban artists, the gay community, and pop performers under one flag. His captivating artworks created a dialogue that would define an era in the world of street art. Haring’s legacy to the art world is enormous. He brought elements of popular culture, “low art” and non-art elements into the formerly exclusive “high art” spaces of museums and galleries.
Keith Haring was highly political in questioning identity, AIDS awareness, and other major challenges of society. He was also very concerned about the effect of illicit drugs on people, so he painted numerous murals highlighting the impact and the danger of drugs.
Even with all this success, Haring believed that everyone should have access to art, so he opened up his own Pop Art merchandise stores where people could buy a sticker, t-shirt, poster, or dressing pin of one of his works of art for a little as two bucks. The shop was an extension of his work, a fun boutique where his art could be accessible to everyone. For nearly twenty years, the shop continued to be a downtown attraction with floor-to-ceiling murals and affordable clothing and gift items all featuring Keith Haring’s unique icons. In 1990, he released a set of five embossings (Radiant baby, Barking dog, Angel, Flying devil, and Three-eyed Monster) each with a single symbol that had been born from his iconic style. Today, The Icons portfolio still remains one of the most sought-after series created in his short life.
“Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination, and encourages people to go further.”Keith Haring
Alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Keith Haring was part of the legendary pop art trio. All three artists enjoyed a close friendship. By combining high art with consumerism in order to bring modern art to the masses, the trio successfully bridged the gap between gallery spaces and gift shops, changing the art course. Although both Basquiat and Haring died young, each in a tragic way, yet, decades later, their art still has the ability to impact and inspire young artists and art lovers, from t-shirts and Bearbrick figures to multi-million dollar artworks.
When Basquiat died, Keith Haring created a painting entitled “Piles of Crowns” as a memorial, using the symbolic crown that often appeared in Basquiat’s work. For his friend’s obituary, Haring wrote, “The supreme poet. Every action is symbolic, every gesture an event… Greedily we wonder what masterpieces we might have been cheated out of by his death… only now will people begin to understand the magnitude of his contribution.”
“Art is nothing if you don’t reach every segment of the people.”Keith Haring
Keith Haring was an era-defining visionary artist and a fearless activist who died at the age of 32. The impact he made on the art world lives on to this day, now more than ever. His work is frequently featured in the designs of many high-end fashion brands, from caps, and t-shirts, all over the Bearbrick figures to expensive prints and paintings in galleries and museums all over the world.
Photos: Keith Haring Foundation