«He was born face up, (...) I should have known right then something was gonna be...upper! », said Keith's mother laughing.
Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania (U.S.). At a very early age, he got interested in drawing, learning the basic skills from his father. When he was 19, he moved to New York where he studied at the School of Visual Arts but he got his artistic training in the streets and the shabby parts of the city as well.
The 1980s were a time of prosperity and new hopes for the American dream. There was an obvious need for social changes which was expressed by young people leaving their marks on the walls of the city. The new message required a new vocabulary: graffiti. This visual language allowed Haring to gain his first public attention. Those simple images, with bold lines, vivid colours and active figures can function as words. Their symbolic values of birth, death, love, war... appeal to a wide range of people and are generic enough to be understood by everyone. Those signs are universal: they are for every culture and make sense at every moment in history. This is the reason why they are so powerful and have gained national and then international recognition by the media.
The idea of drawing in subway stations came to him in a flash when he noticed an empty black panel. Drawing there on unused advertising panels was a way to give art a new life and to make it easily accessible to everyone. So he was able to bring artwork to all sorts of people, even those who never went to museums. He made hundreds of these public drawings between 1980 and 1985, sometimes producing as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. Other famous places on which he painted include the western side of the Berlin Wall in 1986 (3 years before its fall), exteriors of hospitals in the United States and in Europe. He also created a mural for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty on which he worked with 900 children. As his fame grew, he welcomed the chance to take his work to even more places. So he participated in international exhibitions, a good opportunity for him to travel and experience other cultures. Aboriginal and African art, among other things, have influenced his work. He was also inspired by Walt Disney and by Andy Warhol, a leading figure in the pop art.
In 1986, he opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho where T-shirts, toys, magnets, posters, buttons are for sale. By selling low cost products, he made his art available for the greatest possible number of people.
Shortly before he died of AIDS, at the age of 31, he established “The Keith Haring Foundation”. Its aims are to protect and expand the audience for his artwork providing information about his life and work but also to give financial assistance to non-profit-making organizations he used to help when he was still alive.