Keith Haring is known for blurring the lines between fine art, graffiti and cartoon. His works feature shapes and characters that are highlighted with thick, black outlines as is often seen in graffiti and cartoons, but make no mistake, Haring is one of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century. Throughout his career, the artist worked with many famous icons such as the musicians Grace Jones and Madonna as well as fellow artists Futura and Kenny Scharf.
Haring’s Colorful and Artistic Story
Even as a child, Haring was particularly interested in the creation of artworks. He spent much time with his father (who was an engineer and amateur cartoonist) creating drawings. For this reason, the young Haring was largely influenced by the drawings of Walt Disney and other television cartoons.
Despite Haring’s fervor for creating art from a young age, his parents and career counselor encouraged him to enroll at the Ivy School of Professional Arts in Pittsburgh to study commercial art because they were skeptical that he would be able to make a good living from art without a background in more commercial art forms. But Haring felt strongly disconnected with the illustration and graphics design he was being taught and chose to leave in order to pursue the art career he’d initially intended on having.
The choice to leave marked the beginning of the artist’s development and personal style. Haring soon found himself studying works by artists like Pierre Alechinsky, Jean DuBuffet and Christo – whose works inspired him and gave him a burst of confidence in his own artistic abilities.
Haring went on to finish his studies at the New York School of visual arts.
In 1980, Haring first began to paint graffiti on subway walls, which gained much attention. These graffiti works were inspired by the artist’s connection to the idea that art shouldn’t be elitist and by his enjoyment of the public” interaction with his work. About his experience painting in the subway, Haring wrote that it kept him going and that he appreciated comments and questions from all of his spectators.
Later on, Haring demonstrated his strong belief in making art for the public when he opened up the Pop Shop store in New York. The artist cited his reason for opening the store as follows: “My work was starting to become more expensive and more popular within the art market. Those prices meant that only people who could afford big art prices could have access to the work. The Pop Shop makes it accessible.”
Activism and Legacy
Unfortunately, Haring’s life ended much earlier on than most. In 1988 – after having lost many of his friends to AIDS – Haring himself was also diagnosed with the disease. This led the artist to embrace a new artistic style that was primarily aimed both at making sense of his looming death and to educate a public that was still very ignorant about the disease, many having still been under the impression that it was “gay cancer” – a view that Haring set out to disprove during the time he had left.
Haring bravely chose to celebrate the time he would still be able to create artistic works. During an interview with the Rolling Stone, Haring said “Everything I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to do”, a clear reflection of how he lived his life as fully as possible.
And Haring’s legacy lives on in more than just his artistic works. In 1989, approximately a year before his death, Haring founded the Keith Haring Foundation for the support of not-for-profit organizations that assist in educating children about HIV and AIDS. Through the foundation, the artist has allowed much of his own works to be used for education regarding the disease.