Keith Haring Essay, Research Paper
Keith Haring was an American painter, whose simple, symbol-like drawings of dogs, babies, and dancing figures brought him to international acclaim during the 1980s. While making art that spoke directly of love, he raged against intolerance and shared the distress about the world around him. He believed art was a tool of communication, and that art has the power to transform lives and enrich the spirit. In a time when pessimism was prominent, Keith Haring played the role of the magical child whose joy seemed to contradict the definite materialism that consumed the art world. Like many young artists, Haring was not at first well understood, although many appreciated him. Now, his iconic style, relaxed nature, and sense of fun made him one of the most beloved artists of his time.
Keith Haring was intensely aware of being a part of a new generation of Americans. Haring wrote, I consider myself a perfect product of the space age not only because I was born in the year that the first man was launched to space, but also because I grew up with Walt Disney cartoons (Sussman 10). His goal was to speak of and for his generation, to create symbols for it, and to display those symbols in places where people could see them and react. He did this by uniting street culture and high art and expanding the legacy of Pop Art. The cartoon style that haring first used as a child and from there built an enterprise of pieces, was animated by the energies of his culture: space travel, nuclear accidents, video games and robotics, disco and rap, sex and drugs.
There are essentially three phases in Keith Haring s short career. Fist, Haring synthesized a street and club art and transformed a unique style of drawing into bold, public, large-scale painting and decoration. Second in his middle phase, he produced paintings that were Pop versions of Neo-Expressionism and also using publicly known cartooning style to create large murals and other works, many of them for children. Finally, in the last years of his life, he concentrated on summing up his art career while also acting out against his imminent death. (Sussman 13)
Haring s work was almost fully developed by the young age of twenty when he left Pittsburgh for New York. Raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Haring, the oldest of four children, had been encouraged to draw by his father. From the hours when father and son drew imitations of the things they saw together, cartoons and children s book illustrations; Haring developed his unique style (Haring.com). He later went to the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center to study commercial-art but soon dropped out for two reasons. One, the people that he encountered at school were unhappy being illustrators and had lost their own pride for art and their personal art all together (Haring.com). Two, after hearing Christo lecture about his large-scale environmental art projects, Haring was inspired to begin creating art for public spaces (Encarta). In 1978 he moved to New York City, where he attended classes at the School of Visual Arts. Here he was exposed to theoretical studies and to video performance art. In one of his classes, Haring made a video focusing on his own body especially his genitals; this was the beginning of his obsession with phallic shapes (Sussman 12). These pieces however are not as readily seen today. Most examples of Keith Haring work that one would see is his unisex figures, such as the crawling baby or his cartoon drawings, even though a great deal of his work addressed his own sexuality and other sexual themes, such as masturbation and bestiality (Image one).
Haring became interested in the look of hard-edged black lines he saw in the graffiti on subways and subsequently surrounded himself with a group of graffiti kids, like Jean-Michael Basquiat, who were gaining acceptance in the local galleries. He also was influenced by artists that showed their work in alternative spaces, such as Jenny Holzer. From these two influences some of Haring’s most famous public works were formed. First, while riding the subway home one night, Haring noticed the large black space between the advertisements, and so he decided that it was the perfect space to display his artwork. The chalk drawing in the subway used images such as the barking dog, flying saucers emitting lightning bolts, and his so-called radiant baby (a faceless baby surrounded by radiating lines) which later became his signature (Image two). Since his graffiti was accessible to everyone who rode the subway, it created a sense of identity for those who took the time to enjoy it. Henry Geldzahler, an art critic, once said that, Keith Haring s work appeals to us on several levels. First, of course, is the goofy cheerfulness that strikes immediately and, through repetition, becomes a leitmotif that sees us through our days a tuneful celebration of urban commonality (UNC.com). While these drawings made Haring famous, he also was arrested repeatedly for criminal mischief. Secondly, he walked the streets and attached pieces of paper to walls, or billboards, then photographed what he had done to be displayed. For example, he altered an existing street ad for a company called Chardon to read hardon. He would also take existing print and past them together to create new text, such as Reagan Slain by Hero Cop (Sussman 12) & (Image three). Meanwhile, Haring also created work for upscale galleries.
Haring treated his shows as environments, there were billboards and graphic art, and the walls were covered with his images, which included Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and generic characters such as two and three eyes faces (Image four). These shows were described as, a unique echo of the street and the clubs, the voices of the urban poetry of hip-hop (Sussman 17). The wide popularity of Haring s shows allowed him to help other young graffiti artists organize there own shows. His 1982 show at the prestigious Tony Shafrazi Gallery in SoHo, NY was enormous success and effectively launched his career (Encarta). This show gave him a new outlet of domestic art that was still offbeat and commercial but also gave into the demands of the market. He now painted on vinyl tarpaulins and painted on objects. He now used found objects to paint on, such as traffic barriers and old doors (Sussman 18). The simple and graphic style of his tarp artwork was seen through the next eight years of his life in his paintings, murals, and commercial products. The tarps were also full of the primary colors of traffic signs and colors of the 60s, and his lines were thick and furious, leaving drips over the surface (Image five). These tarps still had his famous imagery developed in his subway drawings including an open head with bouncing figures coming out of its cavity (Image six). His art also now had a narrative effect but nothing specific was intended. Haring describes this new style by saying, the symbols are self-explanatory and straightforward, but the combinations of them the way they re rearranged and juxtaposed (Sussman 18).
By this time his club life, especially the rising popularity of hip-hop culture, was being seen in his work. Haring drew dance in motion by carefully studying the dancers, music, and DJs. He would study each step and then replicate those positions, especially the head spins and the bridge, in sculpture and painting (Image seven). Many critics compare this stage of his art to Degas and his precise study of ballerinas (Thompson 214).
When Keith s subway drawings began to backfire because people were stealing his pieces and selling them, he decided to go into the commercial world and popular culture. After Haring s work began to gain more value, he felt that he was loosing the impact that his work once had on the general public. So, he decided to open a Pop Shop in SoHo and later in Tokyo, enabled him to reconnect with the public that had enjoyed the subway art. He wanted the shop to be place where, not only the collectors could come, but also kids from the Bronx (UNC.com). The shop contained bags, stickers, hats, sweatshirts, and T-shirts that displayed Haring s work (Image eight). Haring s products became trendy not only because they were stylish but also because they dealt with the AIDS virus. Like his subway pieces, the Pop shop art was able to inform and educate even more individuals about the disease. One of the prominent images on these items was a pink triangle with ghostly silver figures, covering their eyes and closing their ears, entitled Silence=Death (UNC.com) & (Image nine). This work is still being sold today, and many credit the Pop Shop for keeping the Haring legend alive and popular.
Keith was not only remembered by his artwork but by his incredible personality and his work with people. Even though he himself was infected with the incurable AIDS virus, he was busy tending to other and their needs. He was involved with many charitable organizations that supported children. He gave to these organizations by doing art workshops for children; such as painting a large Statue of Liberty and let the children of the Bronx color it in (Sussman 148) & (Image ten). He also donated many artworks to many public and other children s areas (Image eleven). Then in 1989, a year before his death, the Keith Haring Foundation was created to continue the work Keith has done with AIDS-related and children s charities. Children s Village and The Keith Haring Health Services Clinic, both primary concerns of Haring, helped runaway children, people with eating disorders, AIDS patients, and other conditions relating to physical and sexual abuse. Keith believed that, Kids are our greatest resource Every effort, no matter how small, to help improve our children s futures has to be our first priority (UNC.com).
I believe that Keith Haring was a caring individual that was able to express his ideas and beliefs in his art. He was a genius that was able to reach critical success and also appeal to the people who could never afford a piece of his work. Individuals were able to experience Keith s work emotionally, which was a major part of his success. This gave the public something that they would have never been able to experience otherwise.
Keith had a unique style that commented on almost every aspect of Pop culture, from sex to dance to children. The overly trendy and famous Pop Shop has helped keep Keith s message and artwork alive while unfortunately it has masked some of his darker work to the public. However, without it, his work may have been lost from the mainstream forever. His work was simple, but was filled with meaning that could be taken for whatever impression the onlooker feels. His strength through a time of destruction was commendable, while his work remarkable.
Keith Haring s work both on the canvas and off, impacted our society greatly, and provided those without hope, with a life to look forward to. From the inner circle of the art elitists to the general public, he was widely admired for his work of the 1980s, and continues to be recognized as one of the first successful figures who has transformed society s idea of what art is. Even after his death in 1990 his art has traveled all over the Europe and the United States.