About Keith Haring
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania on May 4th 1958, and raised in Kutztown, PA, Keith Haring was both an artist and social activist until his untimely death from AIDS on February 16th 1990 at the age of 31.
In 1976, Haring enrolled at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh but dropped out after two semesters, when he realized he had little interest in becoming a commercial artist. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New York City, where he became part of the burgeoning street culture that was taking art out conventional locations like galleries and museums and replacing them with city streets, subway stations and spaces in clubs.
During this period Haring met fellow artists Keith Scharf and Jean-Michael Basquiat – both of whom would lead extensive careers for decades to come – as well as musicians (Madonna was a close friend of his), performance artists and graffiti specialists. He also met Andy Warhol, who would become both a mentor and friend to Haring, and the inspiration for many of his pieces.
In 1983, he took part in the São Paulo Biennial and just a year later he had a mural commissioned to replace the water curtain at the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Just a year after that, in 1985, Haring started to paint on canvas but quickly moved on to new ventures like painting Grace Jones’ body for the “I’m Not Perfect” music video and opening Pop Shop, a retail outlet in New York City’s SoHo district to sell his merchandise at a low-cost. Haring took heat from the art world for making his artwork so readily available in the forms of t-shirts and buttons, but he stood strong (in part thanks to Warhol’s support) and Pop Shop eventually closed in 2005, 15 years after his death.
Right around this time, Haring began using his art to convey his opinions on issues that he felt were important like anti-Apartheid, AIDS awareness (even though he hadn’t been diagnosed with the disease yet) and the rampant use of crack cocaine. In 1986 he painted his famous “Crack is Wack” mural on a handball wall at 128th St. & 2nd Ave. and thereafter created public murals around the world, including one at a children’s hospital in Paris and even one of the western side of the Berlin Wall before it was torn down.
Haring didn’t only send messages to the community; he was a part of it. Haring led drawing workshops for children in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, and helped with the visuals for many literacy programs and other public service campaigns.
In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS and subsequently established the Keith Haring Foundation, whose mandate was to “provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications and the licensing of his images”.
With a career spanning just a decade, Haring has featured his work in over 100 group and solo exhibitions, along with having been written about countless times in various publications. His work is said to express universal concepts like birth, death, sex and war through “primacy of line and directness of message” and because of its accessibility has managed to attract such a varied audience.