Biography of Keith Haring
During the 1980s Keith Haring had the world at his feet, although his brilliant career was truncated by his early death he achieved worldwide acclaim and prestige. He was highly prolific and generous to the end, being passionate about expressing the universal concepts of love, life, death, and war using his own distinctive language and imagery.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1958, the young Keith Haring was influenced by Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney and by the age of 20 had the honor of his first solo show at his local art center. Moving to New York in 1978, he was swept up in the burgeoning art scene whose spirit and momentum would come to be characterized by the hedonistic events at Club 57 and the iconic figure of Jean-Michael Basquiat—one of Haring’s good friends. Based on the primacy of the line, Haring configured a universally accessible art practice through asserting simplified impulses of expression. He first made a name for himself in the 1980s when he began using white chalk to draw on unused advertising panels found in subway stations, he would make upwards of 30 drawings a day and he became well known to the commuters who would often converse with the artist while he was working.
Keith Haring’s assent to fame happened in a whirlwind between 1980 and 1989, during which time he participated in over a 100 solo and group shows. Famously in 1986 Haring opened up the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho, New York, selling multiples and limited editions of his work including magnets, buttons, and yoyos. Haring considered the shop to be one of his artworks and using just black and white he produced a striking retail location which made his work accessible to a wide public and at an affordable price. Andy Warhol shared similar beliefs and they were greatly aligned in thought and deed. Haring delighted in collaboration and worked with a diverse array of stars including Madonna, who famously wore clothes designed by him for her performance of Like a Virgin on the British Top of the Pops TV-show.
Deeply involved in charitable work and public artwork, Keith Haring dedicated much of the 1980s to producing public works for charities and hospitals. He even painted a mural on the western side of the Berlin Wall a few years before it was dismantled. Diagnosed with AIDS in 1989 he set up the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989 to further interest in his work, publications, as well as generate awareness about AIDS.
Keith Haring died of complications related to AIDS in 1990 at a funeral attended by over 1,000 mourners. He was a social activist as much as an artist and his ideas about politics and sexual orientation are ostentatiously present throughout his work. Heavily affected by the death of friends and loved ones from AIDS, his work took on an increasingly oppressive and sinister feel as he rallied against homophobia and social injustice. Despite this most of his work radiated an optimistic sense of joy and fulfilment.
Keith Haring was a prominent part of documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany in 1982 and he contributed work to the Whitney Biennial in 1983 as well as the São Paulo Biennial. He was awarded a large retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1997 and the year before had his first large scale retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. More recently in 2013 “Keith Haring: The Political Line” opened at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He is a feature of many of the most high-profile collections around the world including at the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam as well as MoMA, in New York. His international profile continues to expand and his trademark blocky figures, exploding with energy and movement were an astonishing addition to the visual language of the 20th century.