Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” Never was this more apparent than in the works of Keith Haring: in his brief life he achieved a popularity that most artists never see during their living days. He was 31 when he died of AIDS, but in that time he created many pieces that will be with us for time immemorial.
Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1958. He was raised in a small town and developed a love for drawing early on in life. His father taught him cartooning as well as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney, and cartoon style is evident in much of his work.
When he graduated from high school, he wanted to pursue a career in commercial art. He enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional Art in one of the most bustling of industrial cities: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He spent a year in the school before realizing that he had no interest in commercial art.
He then moved to New York City, where he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts and discovered a thriving alternative art scene. It was also at this time that he became friends with Jean-Michele Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, as well as many of the musicians and graffiti artists that helped make up the scene. Haring became very active in the community by organizing and participating in performances at Club 57.
As a student, he would explore art through performance, installation, collage and video. In 1980 he started doing chalk drawings on the blank black paper that was found throughout the New York subway system. Commuters quickly became familiar with Haring’s style, allowing his art to reach a wider audience.
Between the years 1980 and 1989, Haring was a part of many solo and group exhibitions. In 1986 he also opened up the Pop Shop, a store that sold his art. He also drew a lot of criticism from his fellow artists, but he had strong support from his mentors, friends, fans, and most notably, Andy Warhol. Haring highly admired Warhol for his work fusing life and art.
Haring was dedicated to public works and political commentary in art, the former leading him to work with 900 children creating art and murals. After he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, he created the Keith Haring Foundation, which helped provide funding and imagery for various AIDS organizations.
He passed away in 1990 due to AIDS-related complications. His artwork remains iconic, and his style is widely recognized and is still shown throughout the world. The De Young Museum in San Francisco is currently running an exhibit called Keith Haring: the Political Line, which will be closing February 16, 2015. His work is also being shown as a part of a group exhibit called Post Pop: East Meets West, at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The exhibit runs until February 23.