Modern Art - Keith Haring

Keith Haring

Keith Haring was pre-eminent among young artists whose work responded to the New York street culture of the 1980's. Keith Haring was drawn to the diversity of life in the subway and began his public work with graffiti art on New York subway trains. He quickly gained recognition in the art world. In fact, several times when transit policemen brought him into the local station in handcuffs, the other officers were his fans and excited by the opportunity to meet him and shake his hand. Despite his early death in 1990 at the age of 31, Haring's imagery has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.

A former student of the School of Visual Arts, Keith Haring translated his interest in signs and symbols to an artistic vocabulary, an ideographic language. He developed his well-known radiant child, barking dog, flying saucer and praying man, along with universal symbols like the heart, the halo, the cross, the pyramid and the dollar. His language simultaneously captured the mysteries of ancient ritual and the obsession of high-tech society. Haring's work was invariably positive, generous and vibrating with life.

Haring believed that 'the contemporary artist has a responsibility to continue celebrating humanity,' but 'celebration' does not merely imply a carefree festival; it also means, as in the eucharistic rites, a solemn, reflective occasion. Even Keith Haring's early artwork contained the implicit duality of celebrating life and honoring the solemn darkness that pervades human existence. This is why even his simplest ideograms strike a deep and universal chord. Some of Haring's detractors, apparently offended that his work appeals to children as well as adults, have declared that Keith Haring is not an artist to be taken seriously. The same objection might be raised about any of the classic myths that can be digested by children while providing the basis for understanding man's deepest level of humanity.

"I have been drawing since I was four years old. I learned to draw from my father, who would entertain me by inventing cartoon animals. Although he never pursued an artistic career, he encouraged me to continue drawing throughout my school years. Drawing became a way of commanding respect and communicating with people. When I was eighteen, my work, which had been primarily cartoon-oriented, became increasingly abstract and concerned with spontaneous action. I became interested in Eastern Calligraphy and the art of the Gesture. When I moved to New York City at the age of twenty, I started to experiment with drawing on paper that was so large that I had to stand inside the drawing. Although my work was still "Abstract" at this time, I became aware of the vast differences in people's responses to the work. Different people saw different things in the drawings. I remember most clearly an afternoon of drawing in a studio that large doors that opened onto Twenty-second Street. All kinds of people would stop and look at the huge drawing and many were eager to comment on their feelings toward it. This was the first time I realized how many people could enjoy art if they were given the chance. These were not the people I saw in the museums or in the galleries but a cross section of humanity that cut across all boundaries. This group of different people living and working together in harmony has always been my prime attraction to New York." -- Keith Haring