Keith Haring was born today in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania. At an early age Haring was interested in drawing and design and eventually moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts. There he discovered an alternative art community including artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and other performance artists and musicians. This group developed outside the conventional gallery and museum setting and thrived on the streets and subway, and eventually he began to organize and participate in exhibitions and performances at Club 57 and others.
He began experimenting with performance, video, installation, and collage as well as drawing and sought to communicate with a larger audience and thought to use unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. Using white chalk, he produced hundreds of these public drawings between 1980 and 1985 and commuters on the subway would start to recognize and engage with the artist and his works. The subway became a “laboratory” for experimenting with his simple lines and seeing through his ideas.
His empire and following thrived as he completed many public projects from animation for the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square to designing watch designs for Swatch and advertisements. Throughout his career, Haring’s public works also had social messages producing works worldwide for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centres and orphanages, and also held drawing workshops for children around the world. You all know his Crack is Wack mural of 1986 and is a landmark along New York’s FDR Drive.
In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS and founded the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989 which provides funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs while expanding the audience for his works through exhibitions, publications and licensing of his images. He even used his imagery during the last years of his life to send a message about his own illness, and generate activism and awareness about AIDS.
In his short years of being a world-renowned artist and philanthropist, he was able to reach a wide audience by expressing universal themes of birth, death, love, sex and war using simple lines to direct his message. He died at the age of 31 from AIDS related complications on February 16, 1990 and would have turned 57 today.
“I don’t think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.”-Keith Haring