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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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