Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Kutztown, Berks County
Acclaimed artist and AIDS activist Keith Haring was raised in Kutztown.
Keith Haring was born May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania. After spending his young adult life in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Haring moved to New York, New York, to begin his career as an artist. In 1980, Haring began creating artwork on empty advertising boards in the New York City subway system. Throughout his short, intensive career, Haring created images all over the world, and many of them were for public use. In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in New York City, selling artwork to the public in many different media. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, and he created the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989. Haring died of AIDS related complications on February 16, 1990.
Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania. Haring spent his childhood in neighboring Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and he developed a love of art. More specifically, the young Haring developed a love of drawing, and he learned cartooning skills from his father and popular works such as those of Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss. After graduating from Kutztown Area Senior High School in 1976, Haring spent a short time traveling the country before enrolling at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. After spending two semesters studying commercial art, Haring dropped out of the Ivy School because he had little interest in commercial graphic art and wanted to change direction. In 1978, Keith Haring moved to New York City and attended the School of Visual Arts (SVA). While enrolled at the school, Haring’s trademark graffiti-inspired style started to emerge as he experienced the “new art” in the streets and clubs of the big city. As a student at SVA, he experimented with many media, including performance, video, installation, and collage, while always maintaining a strong commitment to drawing. His experiences led him to become friends with fellow artists such as Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat. In addition to finding inspiration from his peers, Haring was also influenced by the works of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Robert Henri. With these influences, Haring was able to push his own ideas toward a graphic expression based on the primacy of the line that also incorporated a public, participatory nature. In 1980, Haring found a highly public venue to express his in the unused advertisement panels in: the New York subway. He began to create drawings in white chalk upon these blank paper panels throughout the subway system. Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced hundreds of these public drawings, sometimes creating as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. The seamless flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often stopped to watch Haring create art when they encountered him at work. Between 1980 and 1986, Haring achieved international recognition and participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions. In 1982, Haring had his first solo exhibition in the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York City. Also in 1982, Keith Haring created a thirty-second animation for the Spectracolor billboard in Times Square. In 1985, he created four watch designs for Swatch USA. At the time a Swatch watch was more of a novelty item, but today the company is famous for its creativity and originality in watch design. Haring’s acclaim was not limited the United States; he also participated in several highly renowned international survey exhibitions such as Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany, the São Paulo Biennial, the Paris Biennial, and the Whitney Biennial. He also created murals in Sydney, Melbourne, and Rio de Janeiro. One of Haring’s more famous international works was a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall in 1986. In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho selling T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons, and magnets bearing his images. To Haring, the shop was an extension of his work. To show how the store was part of his work, Haring painted the entire interior of the store, including the walls, ceiling, and floor, in an abstract black and white mural. After nearly 20 years of providing the public with Haring artwork in everyday media such as shirts and buttons, the Pop Shop closed its doors on August 28, 2005. Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centers, and orphanages. Some of his more famous public works include: a mural for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty (1986), a mural on the exterior of the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, France (1987), and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall (1986). Haring also printed and distributed 20,000 Free South Africa posters. Haring also held drawing workshops for children in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo, and Bordeaux. In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. After feeling the anguish of being diagnosed, he established the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989 to provide funding and artwork for AIDS organizations and children’s programs. Haring used his artwork during the last years of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about AIDS. Haring’s artwork has been described in many different ways ranging from random nonsense to inspirational masterwork. Ingrid Sischy of Vanity Fair describes some of Haring’s art: “Some of his most characteristic imagery involved figures twirling around and playing together, happy but never aimless.” Her words find resonance in that Haring’s artwork may have appeared playful but still tended to carry a powerful message. By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex, and war, and using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience, and his work has become a universally recognized visual language of the 20th century. At the age of 31, Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications on February 16, 1990. A memorial service was held on May 4, 1990, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, with over 1,000 people in attendance.