Artist Profile: Keith Haring

He came from art and became one of the most famous artists of his time. He was born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania but grew up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. His father was an engineer and a cartoonist. His first art influences came from his spending time with his father. He was the first born of four siblings and the only boy. Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Looney tunes and Charles Schulz were also his influences.

He was brought up in a religious family, but he left all that behind when he was a teenager and decided to travel the country. He made a living from selling vintage t-shirts, and during that time, he tried drugs. He lost interest in commercial art which he was studying at Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. His decision to leave was after he read The Art Spirit by Robert Henri which made him want to focus on his art.

He familiarized himself with the art of Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey while working at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts as a maintenance person. All the art influences around him kept giving him a push towards art. He came by Pierre Alechinsky work in 1977 that gave him the confidence to make large calligraphic images.

In 1978, Christo a sculptor gave a lecture that gave Haring the push he needed to show his work to the public. It was then that Haring got the courage to hold his first on man exhibition at the Center for the Arts in Pittsburgh. After the show, he moved to New York to study painting. Keith also ventured into video and performance art while there. He got behind on credits because his teachers did not award his social activism works any points.

The earliest recognition of Keith was through his art on subways. His had film of his exhibitions at Club 57 in 1980. He took part in the Times Square Exhibition where he drew human and animal faces in his art for the first time.

crack is wack keith haring mural

He became friends with Futura, Kenny and Jean-Michel in 1982 who were also upcoming artists. Between 1982 and 1989 he did over 50 public works of art in many cities around the world. His remarkable mural Crack is Wack is still visible through New York’s FDR Drive.

After his extensive works around the Cities, he met Andy Warhol who was one of his themes in his art. The beginning of their friendship cemented the success of Haring as an artist.

Keith Haring International Work

keith haring new south wales

He took part in some international art projects which gained him international recognition and grew his art even more. He went to Australia in 1984 and worked on murals in Melbourne. He also went to Sydney where the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art had him paint a mural replacing the water curtain that was in the national gallery.

keith haring mural sao paulo

Rio de Janeiro was also one of his stops where he did paintings. He also worked in the Musee d’Art Modern de la Ville de Paris, Manhattan and Minneapolis. He drew a poster of free South Africa which was crucial to his political activity in 1985.

Haring did a section of the Berlin wall in 1986. He got to work with children because he loved children at the City Kids Speak on Liberty project for the Statue of Liberty. It took the collaboration of 1000 children.

Haring described his work as trying to break the barrier between high and low art. It was not about making money. His works then took on a very socio-political theme. He worked on AIDs awareness works, Anti-Apartheid and the Crack Cocaine Epidemic. He also had other works of art of different things like Coca-Cola and Absolut Vodka.

He continued his tradition of solo exhibitions in 1987 at Helsinki and Antwerp. He was the artist and designer on the album A Very Special Christmas that featured Madonna. He worked with artists and joined artists groups that saw him become part of the label of Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

pile of crowns by heith haring

At Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, he worked on public murals in the lobby and the care department. He paid his respects to his friend Jean-Michel in 1988 who died of an overdose by painting A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Sexuality

Keith Haring was an openly gay artist who actively rallied for safe sex. He, however, got a positive diagnosis for AIDs in 1988. The following year, he began a Keith Haring foundation that gave funding to AIDs organizations and Children’s programs. The foundation was also to extend the reach of his artwork. He spoke about his ailment and created AIDs awareness every chance that he got.

 

tuttomondo keith haring

In 1989, the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center gave Haring a platform to paint a mural on the 208 West 13th Street building. For the mural Once Upon a Time, he chose the second-floor men’s room of the building. June of the same year, on the wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio, he did his final public work of art, the mural Tuttomondo.

He also took part in the fashion industry where his artwork was in clothing. Some of these clothes the likes of Madonna would wear. He also ventured into jewelry design with David Spada. He made sculptural pieces for Jones.

Death

Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990. The cause of his death was related to his earlier AIDs diagnosis. He developed complications that caused his death. He had made an impact on the world through his art and Madonna held a benefit Concert in his honor. All the money made from the tour of her Blond Ambition album given to various charities for AIDs awareness.

The works of Haring and his efforts in creating awareness about AIDs got recognition by several organizations which drew inspiration from it and carried on his vision for Awareness and Funding. He is among the first famous people who had foundations dedicated to helping people affected by AIDs.

Much of Haring’s work is chronicled on The Keith Haring Foundation

portrait of thomas hart benton

Artist Profile: Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas was born into a political family. In a family of four children, he was the first born, two sisters, and a brother. His family was well off as his father was Colonel Maecenas Benton, a lawyer, and a US congressman four times. He was born in Missouri in 1889. The most of Thomas’s young life was spent traveling between Missouri and Washington DC because of his father’s political affiliations.

Colonel Maecenas had hope that his first born son would take after him and join politics. He, therefore sent Thomas to Western Military Academy in 1905 to receive military training. Thomas, however, took a different path. Having gotten his upbringing from two cultures that were both parts of him, he went against his father’s wishes and put all his focus into his art.

His mother was in support of this decision, and he was even able to get a job as a cartoonist for Joplin American newspaper in Missouri as a teenager. With his mother backing him, he was able to join art school in Chicago, The School of the Art Institute in 1907.

thomas benton mural with city activieis and dance hall

In 1909, he went to Paris to continue art education. He went to the Academie Julian during which his mother gave him financial and emotional support. He was under his mother’s care until his early 30s when he began a family of his own.

Thomas met artists like Rivera and Stanton while in Paris. He did not conform to Diego’s ideas like many others, but he instead got his influence from Stanton who was an advocate for synchromism. Thomas began his synchromist since that encounter.

His adventures and studies in Europe came to an end in 1912 when he moved to New York where he began painting. He was in the US Navy at the Norfolk station in World War I. His time in the war made an impact on his painting style. He made illustrations of the work and life in a ships yard which became part of the influencing factors of his later forms.

Thomas drew paintings of the camouflage ships that docked at the Norfolk harbor. His works were needed so that the US ship painters would make the drawings correctly, to help the US identify their camouflage ships and to have an advantage of recognizing other ships. He took pride in his work in the Navy that he said it was his most important work as an artist.

Married life

He got married in 1922 to an Italian immigrant Rita Piacenza. She was his student at his art classes for a neighborhood organization in New York. The couple was blessed with two children a boy and a girl in 1926 and 1939 respectively. Thomas was married to his wife for over 53 years. He was separated from his family by his death in 1975. After his death, his wife died eleven weeks later.

Thomas Benton Career

His career began with him denouncing modernism and focusing on his works that are now known as Regionalism. He only took part in leftist politics and his actions kept on growing. His America, Today murals at the New School for Social Research in 1930, was the epitome of his regionalist work. AXA Equitable bought the paintings in 1984, restored them and put them up in the AXA Equitable Tower lobby. The murals got sent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012 as donations.

In 1932, Thomas won a commission from the state to paint the murals of Indiana life for the Century of Progress Exhibition in 1933. These paintings were followed by controversies because, in the murals, there are depictions of the lives of the people and the events that take place. The people did not take too kindly to the publicizing of those events.

controversial thomas benton mural featuring history of state with KKK klu klux klan represented in background

The Ku Klux Klan was something he featured in the murals and critics were on his throat for it. Exposing the members of the KKK was a vice to the people. Most of the men in those times were members of the Klan, and in 1924, the governor elected was a member of KKK. Other members took other political offices in the same year. The murals are however still on display at the Indiana University.

The 1932 Arts of Life in America murals is also part of his works for the Whitney Museum of America Art. The work was a large five panels, and in 1953, the panels were bought by the New Britain Museum of American Art and are on display at the museum.

His color covers featured in the Times Magazine in 1934. The US Scene article was a story about him and two other artists who were the heroes of American art during the time. His disregard for politics did not sit well with artists; he went back to Missouri where he began work on the mural for the Missouri state capitol. The mural, A Social History of Missouri, was among his best works of his career.

thomas benton huge mural in a room

After moving around and his adventures, he finally put up camp in Kansas, and he began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. In his works, Benton always showed empathy for the working class and the peasants. He would demonstrate the beauty of living in a small town, desperation and the sadness of the oppressed in his paintings.

persephone mural by thomas benton

He made the Persephone in 1930. The painting arose controversy, and was taken to a night club. It is considered one of the best works of American Pornography. His autobiography, An Artist in America, came out in 1937. The autobiography gave an impression on Sinclair Lewis who praised Thomas for his expertise in painting and also writing.

Later works

Benton was among the nine artists who took part in documenting scenes in the production of The Long Voyage home in 1940. In 1942, his musical album, Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s came out. He was a great harmonica musician.

jefferson city thomas benton huge mural

He made a mural series, The Year of Peril, during the Second World War that showed the threats of fascism and Nazism. He did the Lincoln mural for the Lincoln University in 1953, Trading at Westport Landing for the river club in 1956, Father Hennepin at Niagara Falls for the Power Authority of the state of New York in 1972 and the Independence and the Opening of the West for the Harry Truman library. The work at the library led to his friendship with the president.

He was working on The Sources of Country Music for the Country music hall of fame in Nashville when he died. His residence in Missouri was made a historic site and remains unchanged since. His life and works have been the features of a documentary in 1988.

harry sternberg sitting infront of a self portrait

Artist Profile: Harry Sternberg

Harry Sternberg was born in 1904 to immigrant parents who had immigrated from Russia and Hungary. He was born in New York, and in 1910 moved to Brooklyn. He began Jewish religious Training when they moved to Brooklyn and at the age of nine, he began taking art classes at Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1915.

Sternberg had shown interest in art at an early age, and his parents supported him in his school work. He took up part time classes in 1922 to 1926 at the Art Students League of New York. After all the art study that Harry had done up to this point, he was ready to start his career in etching, printmaking, and painting. He got his first studio apartment in 1926, Greenwich Village.

Harry Sternberg career

His background education in art gave him the skills that he needed to lay down a successful career. He was good at his art, and he worked hard to grow his career. He had his first exhibition in 1931 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

family industry and agriculture painted by harry sternberg

He went back to the school where he studied in New York as a teacher and also took a keen interest in social issues that affect art. He remained an art professor until 1968. His time as a teacher was very busy and involving. He landed a position in the Graphic Art Division of the Federal Art Project.

He then spent a year studying the working conditions of workers in coal mines and steel mills. He featured this experience in his first ever mural “Chicago: the epoch of a great city” at the Lakeview post office in Chicago. The mural was not funded by the WPA but by the Treasury of Fine Arts.

Harry Sternberg got to meet Diego and his wife Frida in 1934. After the meeting, he began thinking of taking a political stand. He, therefore, became more active regarding political matters. In 1936, he got the Guggenheim fellowship.

His first post office mural was in 1937; he called it “carrying the mail” in Pennsylvania. It had funding from the US department of the treasury of painting and sculpture. Harry then moved to Chicago to study the city. He picked up information on the architecture, history, and industry in Chicago which then he translated into his mural “Chicago: epoch of a great city.”

The mural had details on the early settlers in Chicago, the great fire in the steel mills and the life stock. His work was mostly him trying to capture the struggles of the fight of the workers. The mural’s renovation was in 2001 by Friends of the Lakeview Post Office, a non-profit organization.  The restoration was however seen through by Parma Conservation of Chicago in 2003.

Harry became part of the WPA and in his words said that being part of WPA made him feel important and in the context of a very significant cultural movement in America. One that gave priority to art and conservation of the American culture over the years.

harry sternberg self portrait from chicagos lakeview neighbourhood post office

In 1939, Harry got married to Mary Gosney; they had a daughter, and his family was in the Post office mural in Pennsylvania named “the family, industry, and agriculture.” He loved painting portraits of himself and on his wall for the Lakeview post office; he painted his image on it.

He also ensured to paint the Chicago skyline into the mural that gave the painting more life and beauty. He also included famous buildings like the Conrad Hilton hotel which was the largest hotel in the world at the time. He made sure that the mural incorporated Chicago as it is including the agriculture and stock yards that had cattle. It was all on the right side of the painting. In the steel plant on the left side, he included African American laborers. He was among the first painters to depict African American works into a painting.

The mural made his work more known as it presented a very accurate picture of the working conditions in America at the time and it gained him his place among the most famous painters in the world to date. His mural became a reference point for the great depression. It is the one fresco that is taken care of and the restoration done very thoughtfully and delicately.

The Federal Arts Project came by as a sector of the Work Progress Administration that mostly employed the unskilled. When FAP came about, the mural division was born, and it gave jobs to struggling artists who did not have the financial strength to carry forward their work.

The mural division built a name for itself and significantly developed more than the other visions within FAP. Many artists who went through this group were able to grow themselves and showcase their talents under FAP. Sternberg was among the artists in the mural division.

Retirement

1966 marked the end of Sternberg’s days in the Art Students League after which he and his family moved to California. In California, he did not stop his work; he carried on his art for 35 years more. He published a collection of prints. In one of the prints, there is his work on the mural at the Lakeview post office.

He was a celebrated painter. The Museum of California Center for the Arts held an exhibition to honor and celebrate his work and career in art. It was in 2001. The museum director did the research and writing of the catalog for the exhibition in his owner.

Harry Sternberg died in November 2001 in Escondido California where he had retired to. His work continues to be revered, and his legacy lives on. He died at 97 years old, a teacher, painter, and muralist.

His works are considered emotional but he was a strong artist who believed in achieving what he sets his mind to accomplish. In the 35 years after retirement that he continued his work, he painted the landscape of Borrego Valley in San Diego. He is remembered for his murals especially the one about Chicago city.

us post office mural showing workers in blue uniforms delivering mail

United States Post Office Murals

These are murals that are noteworthy that were made in the New Deal art done between 1934 and 1943. The US Department of the Treasury commissioned this painting. During the commission, there was a considerable level of competition, and only the selected got commissioned.

There were 1400 murals made for federal post office buildings all over the US. 1300 cities got murals in their post offices under the new deal. The efforts of the respective post offices to take care of the walls determine the state of the paintings now.

The New Deal came up during the great depression, and one of its projects was the public works of art project. The project was born in 1933, and its main aim was to get artists in the job market and give assurance to a hopeless nation that times would get better and that they would recover financially.

us post office mural showing workers in blue uniforms delivering mail

The construction of federal buildings that came about in 1933 had $145 million set aside for this works. The federal buildings included courthouses, post offices, libraries, and schools. The public works of art project oversaw the production of 15660 artworks by over 3750 artists. Of the 15000 works of art, 700 were murals that were for public display.

The public works of art project came to an end in 1934. The success of the project was recognized, and in its honor, the section of painting and sculpture began, and it was under the US Treasury. The part was expected to carry on the activities of the public works project and take forward its successes.

The part of painting and sculpture tried to reach as many people as they could and therefore decided to look for the places that most people visited and often. The post office in those times was a very popular place that had a lot of people going in and out of at all times. The section, therefore, got their center for the most impact to the people.

usps mural from the 40s showing workers stylized in pink

In every post office, a 12×5 oil painting on canvas was to be put up on the walls of post offices. Each post office had a construction budget that the section gave recommendations for 1% of it was put into the painting of the murals.

Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) was established in 1935 and got funding by the Works Progress Administration (WAP). The newly formed TRAP was to provide decorative details for the already existent federal buildings. The section was in charge of TRAP and supervised all their works. Once the creative ideas process came to an end, the lead artist for each building was selected and then given assistants from the Federal Art Project of WPA.

Edward Bruce led the section and TRAP. The aim of these projects was to decorate and add beauty to government buildings all over America. Every painting put up on a government building had to be a quality painting that did not raise any controversy of an issue among the people. The murals were expected to have an enormous positive impact on the people and the American culture.

united states post office mural showing a large stylized piece of corn

The art was successfully put up and served their purpose for a considerable amount of time, but the task of protecting and taking care of the murals fell to the post offices. The problem was that most of the post offices let the murals deteriorate. Only a few were taken care of. In some instances, the paintings were put in ancient buildings which made them lose their value faster.

Controversies surrounding the United States Post Office Murals

Controversies always find a way of cropping up even when all the right methods have been followed to the letter. In this case, people brought up issues with the selection of the artists working on the murals. The rural people saw the selection of outsider artists as an insult to them.

For the people, outsider artists would not know their culture and in turn not express the culture and practices of those individuals in the murals. They were opposed to ideas that were not local. The south side states mostly disliked that a painter who had no experience in rural life could paint and depict their life. Having strangers put up their works in places that they had never before visited did not sit well with the locals.

united states post office mural showing a large picture of people and a woman on a horse

The states that were local were poor, and most of the population was illiterate especially the state of Arkansas. The fact that the murals sent to their post offices only focused on the worst conditions of the people. Though right, it did not make the people appreciate the art project.

Since a mural, the paintings on the buildings were permanent, most states rejected the depiction of their states as poor and illiterate of in other cases as violent because that was not the legacy that they wanted their children and the coming generations to find. It led to artists being asked to present sketches before the final work was selected. Paintings of hope for the future were preferred by most people.

Selection Process for Artists

When the section came about, they did not continue the tradition of the public works of the art project of paying artists by the hour. They instead awarded contracts to the artists, and they got paid depending on the works that they produced. The artists were from those who had entered regional and national art competitions.

usps mural showing a large bridge with landscape below

Those who wanted to take part presented their sketches to a committee that would then judge their works. The sketches had to be anonymous ton eliminate any favoritism. The best designs selected were then sent to the section of fine arts where the artists’ final battle round for a position went down.

There were still complaints from the local artists that there was favoritism and corruption and only the known artists got the contracts. After the selection, artists then went through a test which was to paint an American scene. Controversial paintings were discouraged and disqualified if produced. The artists only got paid after the approval of their work.