Keith Haring


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American painter, sculptor, and designer, born in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He studied at the New York School of Visual Arts and in 1980 began drawings with marker pen over advertisements and adjacent wall areas on the New York subway. He developed a distinctive, instantly recognizable style for this impromptu public art, using thick black lines and an equally distinctive range of imagery. There was a trademark ‘radiant baby’, almost a self-portrait, and also flying saucers, and a lot of sex. The hectic pattern of lines tends to cover the surface in an all-over fashion.

Haring was given his first gallery exhibition in 1982 with the dealer Tony Shafrazi, previously known for having defaced Picasso's Guernica as it hung in the New York Museum of Modern Art, as an anti-war protest. By 1985 Haring was showing with New York's most powerful dealer, Leo Castelli, and had extended his range to large-scale steel sculpture. More successfully than his friend and contemporary Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring bridged the gap between high art and the mass market. In 1986 he opened the Pop Shop. This sold Haring products and made his images even more celebrated. As Katherine Dieckmann commented, ‘Haring himself became a kind of souvenir factory’. One surface adorned by Haring designs was the body of the popular singer Grace Jones. Haring also donated his work for campaigning purposes, against apartheid in South Africa and warning against crack cocaine and AIDS. He himself died from the latter. All this has perhaps made Haring's style somewhat over-familiar and caused something of a backlash. The inventiveness of his best work still startles and the darker aspects of his vision as an artist are too easily forgotten in the wake of the image of the relentlessly cheerful man with the round glasses. He has become one of those artists whose enormous public following is not quite matched by specialist acceptance. For instance, David Joselit's American Art Since 1945 (2003) has no mention of him.

Further Reading

K. Dieckmann, ‘Keith Haring’, Artforum International (September 1997)

Subjects: Art.

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