Keith Haring was an artist and social activist whose work responded to the New York City street culture of the 1980s. Like his artistic idol Andy Warhol, Haring used bright colors, bold lines and simple subject matters. He used his artwork to bring awareness to issues of AIDS, racism, gay rights, South Africa, nuclear weapons, and literacy to name a few. Haring has left an impact on the pop art culture world, and his messages are still clear in his artwork.
Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was raised in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania. His introduction to art came at a very early age from watching his father draw cartoons, as well as popular culture around him, such as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.
During Haring's experimental and rebellious adolescence, art continued to be an important interest in his life. He was counseled to attend a commercial art school to gain a commercial-art background and show he was serious about being an artist. After graduating from high school in 1976, Haring moved to Pittsburgh to attend the Ivy School of Professional Art. He dropped out after two semesters, realizing that he had little interest in becoming a commercial graphic artist. Most of the people he met seemed extremely unhappy in the work and considered it a job to pay the bills while they did their own art on the side – something than never seemed to materialize. While in Pittsburgh, Haring continued to study and work on his own, sitting in on classes at the University of Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center, leading to his first important show at age nineteen.
Elements that would become central to Keith Haring’s style were beginning to emerge; he began working with small, interconnected abstract shapes. Later that year, Haring moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA) on a scholarship. Here Keith was able to experience a multicultural urban community; an environment where he was free to explore his gay identity; and a new peer group of artists as energetic and uninhibited as Keith himself.
The alternative art community that was developing outside the galleries and museums – the art community that was in the streets, subways, and public spaces inspired Keith. He befriended fellow artists, musicians, performance artists and graffiti writers that embraced the energy of the alternative art scene. In addition to being amazed by the innovation and energy of his contemporaries, Haring’s philosophical ideals were inspired by the work of three key artists: Robert Henri’s manifesto The Art Spirit, helped him assert the fundamental independence of the artist; also, drawn to the public and participatory nature of Cristo’s work, and Andy Warhol’s unique blending of art and life, Haring committed his career to creating a truly public art.