Keith Haring, one of the most iconic artists of the 80s, has become wildly familiar with today’s youth.
Born in 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania, his love for art started at an early age. He began actively cartooning in his childhood years, and by the time he had graduated high school, he was heading to art school at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. A commercial art school, it did not hold interest for or inspire Haring, and after a single year, he left it behind to work on his own. Within a year’s time, he had won a solo exhibition at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center.
This initial success prompted a move to New York City where he was able to get a spot at the SVA (School of Visual Arts) and hone his unique style. He befriended many fellow modern artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both graffiti-style artists, Haring had a different voice that emphasized his desire to link “high art” with the urban art and style of his beloved graffiti. His goal was always to create bold, large, public art of murals emphasizing his style of cartoonish illustrations of symbols and figures.
Haring’s notoriety first began with his pop art of white chalk drawings done on blank poster marquees throughout New York City’s subway system and in many public spaces. This immersed Haring in the city’s graffiti culture and inspired him to begin creating the vast and spontaneous murals that were to become a hallmark of his style. Art enthusiast would agree that he created his own iconography. One expert said that his imagery would become “a widely recognized visual language.” Another stated that his “seamless flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often would stop to engage the artist when they encountered him at work. The subway became, as Haring said, a ‘laboratory’ for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.”
His many successes led him to solo shows in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries, multiple public projects, theater work, and even designing campaigns for global brands such as SWATCH and Absolut Vodka. He opened his own “Pop Shop” in the late 1980s, emphasizing t-shirts, buttons, and toys along with posters of his most familiar designs. This commercialism earned him some snubs in the art world, but the general public surged towards him, grateful for the accessibility and the messages within his pieces.
In fact, much of his later career emphasized public works with social messages, with more than 50 created around the world. After his AIDS diagnosis in 1988, he started the Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s programs. He also relied on his modern pop art to help him speak of his illness in the last years of his life and support awareness and activism around the disease. He died from AIDS-related complications in 1990 at the age of 31.
The 1980s saw the rise of Keith Haring as a globally recognized artist, and by his own efforts, his imagery appeared on garments of many kinds. T-shirts and even jackets and sweatshirts appeared in many places using the bold pop art imagery that is the signature of his work. Since his death, his work has been spotlighted in a long list of retrospective displays and publications. He remains a familiar figure and inspires other artists to create their own, Haring-style pieces for public display. The famous Keith Haring: Double Retrospect is a world-record-setting puzzle weighing more than 40 pounds, and The Boxers is a massive sculpture on display in Berlin.
Influenced by graffiti and influencing others to give street art the respect it deserves, Keith Haring expressed himself and his social messages through his art, which still resonates with us today.
Part of our Canvas to Reality Series, iconic artist will be featured and highlighted. Our approach is to spread art, and provide artist with another medium to express themselves. Check out the Canvas to Reality collection where there are art hoodies, art tees, underwear, and more.