"I don't think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating it."
American artist Keith Haring’s love for drawing began at a very early age, learning basic cartooning skills from his father and the popular culture around him, including Disney animation and Dr. Seuss illustrations. After graduating from high school, Haring enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh where he studied commercial arts. After two semester he realized that commercial art was not his passion, so in 1978 he moved to New York and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA). There he met and befriended fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as the musicians and performance and graffiti artists (‘writers”) of the blossoming alternative art community that was developing in the downtown streets, the subways, and spaces in clubs and former dance halls.
As a student at SVA, Haring experimented with performance, video, installation and collage, while always maintaining a strong commitment to drawing. In 1980, after noticing unused, black advertising panels on the subway walls, Haring began to create white chalk graffiti in his now world-renowned visual language. Haring was attracted to the idea that his art could be assessible to the masses and rejected the notion of high art. While many graffiti artist at the time were leaving their mark with spray paint, Haring chose chalk as his medium and considered his “writing” an experimental kind of performance art. He enjoyed creating his work for the public and with the public. By 1984 Haring’s work became so revered that within hours of creating his subway chalk art it would be stolen and put up for sale! The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for working out his ideas and experimenting with his simple lines. On his subway drawings, Haring explained,
The context of where you do something is going to have an effect. The subway drawings were, as much as they were drawings, performances. It was where I learned how to draw in public. You draw in front of people. For me it was a whole sort of philosophical and sociological experiment. When I drew, I drew in the daytime which meant there were always people watching. There were always confrontations, whether it was with people that were interested in looking at it, or people that wanted to tell you you shouldn’t be drawing there….
Between the years 1982-89, Haring continued to create public works producing more than 50 large-scale murals in cities all over the world. Often commenting on issues in society, examples of some of the causes his murals supported include pediatric AIDS research and treatment, an anti-drug campaign called “Crack is Wack,” and even an informal protest against the Berlin Wall and all it symbolized at the request of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum!
In his quest to make his art assessible to everyone, Haring opened a Pop Shop retail store in Soho that sold items like pins, stickers, t-shirts and posters to name a few. While he received criticism from the artworld, some who believed that he had “sold out,” Haring stood firm in his belief that art should be for everyday people. “I wanted it to be a place where, yes, not only collectors could come, but also kids from the Bronx,” he had said. “I assumed, after all, that the point of making art was to communicate and contribute to culture.”
While instantly recognizable for his bright colors and playful imagery, Haring’s deceptively simple imagery and text provided meaningful social commentary on issues including AIDS, drug addiction, politics, apartheid, sexuality, war, and religion. As both an artist and an activist he proved that serious issues could be depicted in a playful and easily understood way that could be appreciated by everyone.
Haring’s untitled piece on view at the Emergency Art Museum is the artist’s contribution to the celebration of Earth Day. First observed on March 21, 1970 in San Francisco, Earth Day promotes an awareness of our environment, and is now a globally coordinated event celebrated in more than 175 countries. In this piece, two figures, holding their raised hands, dance in celebration of our great big earth. Haring’s fundamental message was one of devout humanism and love. Through simple yet lively lines and bright colors, his message is clear. Together we can make this world a better place!
In 1987 Haring was diagnosed with AIDS, causing a burst of activity from the artist who hoped to create as much work as possible before he became too sick to do so. Many of the works at that time were aimed at giving a voice to those who were suffering silently with the disease.
In addition to creating impactful art, Haring contributed his talents and resources to numerous causes. He conducted art workshops with children, created logos and posters for public service agencies, and created murals, sculptures, and paintings to benefit health centers and disadvantaged communities. In 1989, Haring established the Keith Haring Foundation to ensure that his philanthropic legacy would continue indefinitely . The Keith Haring Foundation continues to spread hope and assist children and organizations involved in the education, prevention, and care related to AIDS to this day.
Haring believed in humanity and the power of love. Our sidewalks and driveways are the perfect canvas to spread cheer and messages of love and hope. How can you use chalk art to share your compassion and support during the pandemic? We would love to see your artwork! Submit pictures of your masterpieces at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we may post them on our website!
For more information about chalk art during the pandemic:
Want some really cool artsy chalk? Check this out!
*graffiti art – One of the most radical contemporary art movements, “graffiti art” (also called “Street Art”, “Spraycan Art”, “Subway Art” or “Aerosol Art) commonly refers to decorative imagery applied by paint or other means to buildings, public transport or other property.
Copyright © 2020 Emergency Art Museum - All Rights Reserved.
*The Emergency Art Museum claims no ownership, or copyright to any materials found here, or on-site. The Emergency Art Museum functions solely as a non-commercial, non-profit, educational resource for the community. All artwork represented or reproduced, has been done so for educational purposes only under the fair use act.
-Johnny DePalma, Owner / Curator
-Janelle Graves, Art Historian / Museum Educator