Keith Haring

Keith Haring

Narrative Bio

Keith Haring

Born 1958, Reading, Pennsylvania

Died 1990 


Keith Haring came to New York in 1978 and found an active scene of young artists and musicians including Broad Collection artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom Haring became fast friends.  Perhaps more importantly, he found art moving out of galleries and into public life. New York at that time was a place of new trends like the rise of hip-hop, diverse club scenes, and graffiti art. Haring came to be the direct embodiment of the new scene’s energy, tirelessly taking his art wherever he was, whether it was a gallery, his apartment, playgrounds, or department stores. In many ways, Haring’s use of popular imagery came from pop-art’s ambitions to bring popular culture into a critique of fine art. His approach to pop, however, was an expansive, performative method that was akin to the conceptual strategies of the late 1970s in its aggressive use of art as liberating social activism. After Haring discovered his contraction of the AIDS virus in 1988, he focused his outpouring of activism on the AIDS crisis. Less than two years later, Haring died of an AIDS related illness.


Famously, Haring developed his trademark style working on the black surfaces used to cover up old advertising logos in the New York Subway. Later, Haring would use hardware store surfaces like tarpaulin or muslin, as seen in The Broad Art Foundation’s      Untitled, 1984, to bring his signature style in a gallery setting. Derived as much from figures in recent art history like Pierre Alechinsky and Jean Dubuffet as from cartooning, his drawings and paintings were often completed in minutes. Haring would then move onto the next drawing, sometimes completing up to 40 in a single day. These drawings were seen by thousands each day and the momentum of Haring’s practice soon found him working in any media that provided a proper context for his images or could hold a mark. Haring became a recognizable figure in New York, attaining somewhat of a celebrity status that drew much attention to his gallery shows, his public projects, and merchandising.


The Foundation’s work   Red Room , 1988 is monumental in size, transmitting Haring’s public, muralist sensibility to canvas. The painting demonstrates iconic Haring linear shapes, pulsing movement, and hierarchical arrangement as well as a possible reference to Matisse’s famous painting   Red Room  from 1908. Like Matisse, Haring’s style and design pervade the life of his figures and the environments they inhabit, and   Red Room  demonstrates this in a dramatic way. The painting shows a woman at leisure, leaning back and relaxing. The scene, however, is not relaxed or calm, but instead seething with Haring’s personal energy and enthusiasm.


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