During his lifetime, Keith Haring brought an awareness of art, politics and activism to people all over the world. When he moved to New York in 1978, Haring rode the subway to work (he was a busboy at the club, Danceteria. Madonna worked in the cloak room). On his way to work he spotted blank, black panels, waiting for ads to be placed on the subway walls. Haring used the panels to do chalk drawings. Subway riders often stopped to talk with him, police sometimes stopped to arrest him for vandalism.
Early in his career, Haring wrote, “I have been drawing in the subway for three years now, and although my career aboveground has skyrocketed, the subway is still my favorite place to draw. There is something very “real” about the subway system and the people who travel in it; perhaps there is not another place in the world where people of such diverse appearance, background, and life-style have intermingled for a common purpose. In this underground environment, one can often feel a sense of oppression and struggle in the vast assortment of faces. It is in this context that an expression of hope and beauty carries the greatest rewards.”
All of the things that you make are a kind of quest for immortality.” —Keith Haring
Of course, the irony for Haring, as with many other street artists, is their eventual recognition, and requests for help, from the same agencies that arrested them. Haring painted his Crack is Wack mural on the wall of an unused handball court along the Harlem River Drive. In 1986, the use of crack had become an urban scourge. One of Haring’s studio assistants became addicted to crack. Haring tried to get his friend help, which, in 1986, proved to be difficult. Haring painted the mural to raise awareness of the problem. He was arrested after the mural was done.
The news media, and the public, came to Haring’s defense. He was fined $100 for painting the mural without permission. The mural was vandalized and turned into a pro-crack mural, then painted over by someone in the Parks Department. The commissioner of the Parks Department apologized to Haring and offered the assistance of the Department to repaint the mural.
Haring continued his activism, creating his Silence = Death painting to bring awareness of AIDS to the general public.
The pink triangle is a symbol that Haring used in much of his art. The Nazis forced male prisoners, whom they identified as homosexual, to wear pink triangle badges in the concentration camps.
Haring died in 1990, at age 31, of complications related to AIDS. Over 1,000 people attended his memorial service in New York. Haring’s legacy includes The Keith Haring Foundation, that continues to support AIDS research and education.
At Vertu, we have a limited edition ceramic serving set and limited edition platter in the gallery.
The joy that Keith Haring’s art continues to bring, and the work that his foundation does, is an on going gift to the art world. As Haring put it, “All of the things that you make are a kind of quest for immortality. Because you’re making these things that you know have a different kind of life. They don’t depend on breathing, so they’ll last longer than any of us will. Which is sort of an interesting idea, that it’s sort of extending your life to some degree.”