A Pop Art Icon

Amos Lassen

Haring was an international art icon who made his mark on the art scene of 1980’s New York. He revolutionized the worlds of pop culture and fine art with his message that targeted the threat of violence, sexual exploitation and political oppression.

Haring said that“Art is for everyone” and had the mission to make his work as accessible as possible.

Born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania and raised in nearby Kutztown, Haring developed his interest in drawing from a very young age. He was raised in a conventional middle-class family and was led by a teenage curiosity that drew him first to religion, and then the counter-culture. He joined the evangelical Jesus Movement but gave that up for drugs and the Grateful Dead. Haring hitchhiked across America, making and selling T-shirts remaining passionate about drawing. After graduating high school, he enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional Art, Pittsburgh and quickly discovered he had no desire to become a commercial graphic artist. He dropped out and in 1978 moved to New York and went to the School of Visual Arts as a scholarship student.

New York transformed Haring. The underground downtown art and music scene held possibilities and Haring immersed himself in it. He was a fixture at Club 57, where he organized shows, made friends and creative connections with other artists such as Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, he experienced his identity as a gay man in an environment that celebrated queer culture. New York also exposed Haring to graffiti and he became targeted by the authorities and overlooked by the art world. Haring loved his direct connection to the public and it inspired his own efforts. With white chalk on empty black advertising panels in the subway, he began his own movement. He called the New York subway his ‘laboratory’ and experiments with ideas and form through the hundreds of drawings he made there during five-years.

In 1982, Haring had his first major solo exhibition in Soho, the heart of the establishment. It was a critical triumph and received prime time news coverage that brought him national attention.  His American success led to demand abroad and Haring began showing in galleries on streets all over the world.

In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS but began to work harder than ever and in 1989 established the Keith Haring Foundation to raise money for AIDS organizations and children’s programs. He demonstrated publicly against  and used social messaging and campaigning. On February 16, 1990, aged 31, Haring died of AIDS-related complications.

“Keith Haring: Street Art Boy” is a biography not only of Haring and his art, but also of politics and culture in New York City in the late 70s and 80s. Director Ben Anthony balances archive footage, interviews, and audio of Haring’s own words. We see Haring’s development as an artist explored with beautifully and the film places his work in an ideology that makes it fascinating regardless of personal aesthetic taste, and showcasing the artistic importance.

The film uses the same dance music that Haring obsessively played while he worked. We see his love of New York City’s gay scene. The film “explores Haring’s personal relationship with his illness and highlights his activism and conviction that art should be for everyone. Anthony maintains a background focus on the politics of 80s America, placing Haring and his art into a well-defined contextual setting.” Here is a life filled with passion and ambition and see against a backdrop of political uncertainty.

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