Reading, 1958 - 1990

Keith Haring

Keith Haring was an American artist and social activist known for his illustrative depictions of figures and symbols. His white chalk drawings could often been found on the blank poster marquees in New York’s public spaces and subways. “I don't think art is propaganda,” he once stated. “It should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating it.” Born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, PA, he grew up in neighboring Kutztown, where he was inspired to draw from an early age by Walt Disney cartoons and his father who was an amateur cartoonist. After briefly studying commercial art in Pittsburgh, Haring came across a show of the works of Pierre Alechinksy and decided to pursue a...

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Biography

Keith Haring was an American artist and social activist known for his illustrative depictions of figures and symbols. His white chalk drawings could often been found on the blank poster marquees in New York’s public spaces and subways. “I don't think art is propaganda,” he once stated. “It should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating it.” Born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, PA, he grew up in neighboring Kutztown, where he was inspired to draw from an early age by Walt Disney cartoons and his father who was an amateur cartoonist. After briefly studying commercial art in Pittsburgh, Haring came across a show of the works of Pierre Alechinksy and decided to pursue a career in fine art instead. He moved to New York in the late 1970s to attend the School of Visual Arts, and soon immersed himself in the city’s graffiti culture. By the mid-1980s, he had befriended fellow artists Andy Warhol, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and collaborated with celebrities like the singer Grace Jones.

Haring was also inspired by the work of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Robert Henri’s manifesto The Art Spirit, which asserted the fundamental independence of the artist. With these influences Haring was able to push his own youthful impulses toward a singular kind of graphic expression based on the primacy of the line. Haring was determined to devote his career to creating a truly public art. In 1980, Haring found a highly effective medium that allowed him to communicate with the wider audience he desired, when he noticed the unused advertising panels covered with matte black paper in a subway station. 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 in rapid rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. This seamless flow of images became familiar to New York commuters, who often would stop to engage the artist when they encountered him at work. The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1988, Haring’s prodigious career was brief, and he died of AIDS-related complications on February 16, 1990 at the age of 31. Haring’s works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Artworks

2

Eastern Parkway, circa 1980s

Related Categories

20th Century Art / American Art / Artists of All Time / Contemporary American Art / Drawing / Everyday Objects / Graffiti / Inspired by Old Masters / Inspired by Pop Culture / New York / Painting / Popular Culture / Public Art / Reading / Social Activism / Street Art / Subway Signs / Symbolic Images / United States / Using Unusual Tools and Materials / Word as Image

Curriculum Vitae

Group Exhibitions

  • 2019

    We Were Here: East Coast x West Coast, Chase Contemporary, New York, NY

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Curriculum Vitae

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Group Exhibitions

  • 2019

    We Were Here: East Coast x West Coast, Chase Contemporary, New York, NY