Artist and Musician Biographies


A customer brings in what he believes are two original Keith Haring pieces.

Keith Haring does graffiti and gets arrested in the New York subway.

Keith Haring, an important and innovative pop artist of the 1980s, exemplified excitement for life in his everyday actions as well as in his art. Born in the 1958, Haring was raised in Pennsylvania's sleepy farming district near Kutztown. Surrounded by an adoring family, Keith grew up in an environment that encouraged and promoted his artistic ability from the very start. His mother explained that even at the premature age of one, Keith would test his skills using crayons and paper. Under the supervision of his father he would sit for long periods scribbling and experimenting.

Haring's love for art and drawing continued throughout his primary and secondary education, and later proved to be the biggest influence in his career decision. After a dangerous dabble in drug abuse, Keith underwent a revelation, and transformed himself for the better. Determined to change the world through art, and exert a positive influence as an artist, he began his college education at a Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Soon though he traded in his Pennsylvania residence for the excitement and opportunity that seems only to exist in the cutting edge art world of New York. The big city's freethinking and liberal atmosphere proved to be the exact type of environment Keith needed to unleash his creativity and express his artistically unprejudiced attitude without constraints.

It was during his early years in New York that Keith began his rise to fame through influential connections, and an exuberant form of innovative creativity. He put together several shows for the East Village late night social spot, Club 57, quickly captivating the attention and interest of a new, young, highly diverse crowd. Another inventive approach Haring used was to utilize empty space around the city. Haring viewed any blank surface as a canvas and could envision his work appearing its facade.

He created murals and pictures on everything from athletic facilities, and schoolyards, to Times Square billboards and even the side of a blimp. Perhaps though, his most original and novel action was his transformation of blank subway walls into exciting, intricate works of art. With a pioneering approach he began to decorate the dull spaces with chalked symbols and icons.

Through this, Haring quickly acquired broad recognition and fascination from his target audience, New York's general public. Were these acts of vandalism? Though illegal, they enchanted the subway riding audience. Everyone seemed to be enthralled with the young artist's sense of creativity and ability. In one account Keith was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station, only to be, in the end, praised and openly admired by several other officers on duty. Keith also drew on the influence and advice of his artistically inclined circle of friends. He was often seen socially with the new pop music star Madonna, artist and influential mentor Andy Warhol, the Beatles John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono, and famous Pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein.

Keith, unlike most big city artists, had a very different approach to art and the context in which it should be displayed. His main goal was for not only his art, but art in general, to be accessible to the public. He wanted everyone, whether wealthy or poor, old or young, to become impassioned and excited about the world of art. It was said of Haring that he was one of the main forces that "brought the importance street art up front, empowering the move of art from the gallery walls right into the the community."

One step in accomplishing this goal was the very accessible prices he asked for his work. He tried to avoid the formal gallery setting as much as possible, and by making his pieces affordable, was able to appeal to a larger sector of the general public. He opened several Pop Shop stores, which sold reprints of his work in the form of cheap trinkets such as buttons and t-shirts. Another step taken to engage the interest of the community was to earnestly involve himself in a variety of global causes. Being a true humanitarian, he wholeheartedly geared many of his later works toward world causes and the betterment of society. He was also active in the quest to educate people concerning issues such as the growing AIDS epidemic (which sadly took his life in February 1990), nuclear weapons, and the importance of literacy.

He strove to combine these issues with icons of America's popular culture, and transform them into ideas that the ordinary person could relate to and identify with. Lastly, Haring strove to excite children and involve them with the art world. He did numerous projects and murals in which he and large groups of kids interacted to cooperatively produce a piece of art together.

The basis for Haring's work can be characterized by his obsession with the simple element of line, and his interest in the juxtaposition of bold flat primary colors. The predominant influence of these two elements provides a foundation for understanding and interpreting his work. He followed the work of inner-city graffiti artists and their influence of color and line is unmistakably evident in his work.

Keith's art is fascinating in that it ranges from intricate line patterns to very simple, uncluttered forms of images and symbols. He could amazingly twist and manipulate a single line into a form that resembled a common recognizable icon. Most of his works have cartoon characteristics, due in part to the bright colors, playful images, and prominent black strokes that outline most of his shapes and forms. Even his subject matter had evident cartoon elements. Several of his most famous works include flat plain images of "radiant babies", flying saucers, television sets, and barking dogs.

Haring's main goal was to create pictures and images that would captivate the curiosity and creativity of his audience. In some pieces he purposely left figures and shapes ambiguous, therefore subliminally encouraging the viewer to become intimately involved in the quest to decipher the meaning or intention of the piece. Often, he wanted his work to be fun and happy, and therefore utilized palettes of bright contrasting colors. However, just as often, his images could abruptly startle viewers, because of their complexity and subject matter. This is evidence of his ultimate goal that revolved around challenging the minds of his viewers. Haring was impressed with the use of modern technology and its quickly growing role in society. He was fascinated with the human intellect and strove to develop this same intrigue in regards to art. He liked his works to prod questioning and when asked his purpose in a certain piece, he was most often quoted as saying, "Its your job to decide. I only do the drawing."

Page author: J.S. & C.F.