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Keith Haring and Angel Ortiz
Keith Allen Haring (May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990) was an American artist and social activist whose work responded to the New York City street culture of the 1980s by expressing concepts of birth, death, sexuality, and war.
Haring's work was often heavily political and his imagery has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century.
Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1958. He was raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, by his mother Joan Haring, and father Allen Haring, an engineer and amateur cartoonist. He had three younger sisters, Kay, Karen and Kristen. Haring became interested in art at a very early age spending time with his father producing creative drawings. His early influences included Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, and the Looney Tunes characters in The Bugs Bunny Show. In Haring's teenage years, he left his religious background behind and hitchhiked across the country, selling vintage t-shirts and experimenting with drugs. He studied commercial art from 1976 to 1978 at Pittsburgh's Ivy School of Professional Art but lost interest in it. He made the decision to leave after having read Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (1923) which inspired him to concentrate on his own art.
Haring had a maintenance job at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and was able to explore the art of Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey. His most critical influences at this time were a 1977 retrospective of the work of Pierre Alechinsky and a lecture by the sculptor Christo in 1978. Alechinsky's work, connected to the international Expressionist group CoBrA, gave Haring confidence to create larger paintings of calligraphic images. Christo introduced him to the possibilities of involving the public with his art. Haring's first important one-man exhibition was in Pittsburgh at the Center for the Arts in 1978.
He moved to New York to study painting at the School of Visual Arts. He studied semiotics with Bill Beckley as well as exploring the possibilities of video and performance art. Profoundly influenced at this time by the writings of William Burroughs, he was inspired to experiment with the cross-referencing and interconnection of images.
He first received public attention with his public art in subways. Starting in 1980, he organized exhibitions at Club 57, which were filmed by the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi. Around this time, "The Radiant Baby" became his symbol. His bold lines, vivid colors, and active figures carry strong messages of life and unity. He participated in the Times Square Exhibition and drew animals and human faces for the first time. That same year, he photocopied and pasted provocative collages made from cut-up and recombined New York Post headlines around the city. In 1981, he sketched his first chalk drawings on black paper and painted plastic, metal, and found objects.
By 1982, Haring had established friendships with fellow emerging artists Futura 2000, Kenny Scharf, Madonna and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He created more than 50 public works between 1982 and 1989 in dozens of cities around the world. His "Crack is Wack" mural, created in 1986, is visible from New York's FDR Drive. He got to know Andy Warhol, who was the theme of several of Haring's pieces, including "Andy Mouse". His friendship with Warhol would prove to be a decisive element in his eventual success.
In December 2007, an area of the American Textile Building in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City was discovered to contain a painting of Haring's from 1979.
In 1984, Haring visited Australia and painted wall murals in Melbourne (such as the 1984 'Detail-Mural at Collingwood College, Victoria') and Sydney and received a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to create a mural which temporarily replaced the water curtain at the National Gallery. He also visited and painted in Rio de Janeiro, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Minneapolis and Manhattan. He became politically active, designing a Free South Africa poster in 1985, and in 1986, painting a section of the Berlin Wall.
By the arrival of Pop Shop, his work began reflecting more socio-political themes, such as anti-Apartheid, AIDS awareness, and the crack cocaine epidemic. He even created several pop art pieces influenced by other products: Absolut Vodka, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and Coca-Cola. In 1987 he had his own exhibitions in Helsinki, Antwerp, and elsewhere. He also designed the cover for the benefit album A Very Special Christmas, on which Madonna was included. In 1988 he joined a select group of artists whose work has appeared on the label of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine.
Haring also created public murals in the lobby and ambulatory care department of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center on Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn.
When his friend Jean-Michel Basquiat died of an overdose in New York in 1988, he paid homage to him with his work A Pile of Crowns, for Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Haring collaborated with Grace Jones, whom he had met through Andy Warhol. In 1985, Haring and Jones worked together on the two live performances Jones at the Paradise Garage, which Robert Farris Thompson has called a "epicenter for black dance". Each time, Haring covered Jones' body with graffiti. He also collaborated with fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren on their A/W 1983/84 Witches collection, with his artwork covering the clothing which was most famously worn by a pink-wigged Madonna for a performance of her song "Like a Virgin" on the British pop-music programme Top of the Pops and the American TV dance program Solid Gold. Haring also collaborated with David Spada, a jewelry designer, to design the sculptural adornments for Jones.
Bridging the gap between the art world and the street, Keith Haring rose to prominence in the early 1980s with his graffiti drawings made in the subways and on the sidewalks of New York City. Combining the appeal of cartoons with the raw energy of Art Brut artists like Jean DuBuffet, Haring developed a distinct pop-graffiti aesthetic centered on fluid, bold outlines against a dense, rhythmic overspread of imagery like that of babies, barking dogs, flying saucers, hearts, and Mickey Mouse. In his subway drawings and murals, Haring explored themes of exploitation, subjugation, drug abuse, and rising fears of nuclear holocaust, which became increasingly apocalyptic after his AIDS diagnosis. Alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Jenny Holzer, Haring is regarded as a leading figure in New York East Village Art scene in the 1970s and '80s.
American, 1958-1990, Reading, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York
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