Review of Artist Keith Haring
By: David K. Montoya

When reviewing art, one of three things happen: first option is the artist's art stands on its own feet and holds a following simply on its own merit. Option two, is the artist is the brand, and followed for being said person, and finally, the final option is a rare combination of a fan following for the artist's work and for the individual themselves.

This month, we take a look at modern pop artist, Keith Haring, and while we will explore his fundamental contributions to pop culture in the late seventies to 1990, like Crack is Wack, Pop Shop 1 and, my personal favorite, Labyrinth; we will delve into Keith himself.

We start with the basics, he was born May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania as Keith Allen Haring and grew up twenty minutes north in a small town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania. It was there that Haring found his passion for drawing and a very young age, and learned basic skills from a combination of his father, Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.

Haring graduated High School in 1976 and soon after started a commercial arts institution, the Ivy School of Professional Art of Pittsburgh. Despite his artistic abilities, Haring came to the realization that he had little or no desire in becoming a commercial graphic artist, and after only attending two semester, left the faculty. But, exiting the program did not stop him from studying art and developing his own style. Case in point, in 1978 while in Pittsburgh, he held a solo exhibition of his art at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center.

Sometime after the solo exhibition and understanding the importance of improvement in his work, Haring relocated to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts. It was while in New York Haring discovered a booming community of alternative artisans, that was happening in the streets and local subways, most of whom were graffiti artists.

It was there he became friends with other artists such as Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who are both amazing artists in their own right. Originally he begin his own white chalk drawing in the subways simply because there were plenty of free space for him to draw on.

It was described n his own words as the following, "One day, riding the subway, I saw this empty black panel where an advertisement was supposed to go. I immediately realized that this was the perfect place to draw. I went back above ground to a card shop and bought a box of white chalk, went back down and did a drawing on it. It was perfect-soft black paper; chalk drew on it really easily."

The artwork on the walls created talk amounts the patrons about their interpretation as Haring used the common topics of the time, life, love, sex and death. Haring once reflected: "I was always totally amazed that the people I would meet while I was doing them were really, really concerned with what they meant. The first thing anyone asked me, no matter how old, no matter who they were, was what does it mean?"

He also said that the immediate and continuing feedback from the people assisted him in drawing the motivation for his work. From 1980 through 1985, Haring created what was estimated at thousands of works for the public—which also, developed his cartoon like style of characters and motifs at the same time turning his name into a public brand.

Eventually, Haring coordinated exhibitions at restaurants, night clubs and even, in illegally allotted buildings, all though this was common practice in the New York City of the early 1980s. Two social hot spots during that time, The Mudd Club and Club 57 also, became the place for young aspiring artists to mingle and create.

Amazingly, Haring was only twenty years old by the time had such a strong following that the art world took notice. In his journal, Haring wrote: "Art in 1978 has seen numerous attempts at classifying or labeling and then exploiting an idea until the idea itself is lost in the process." Later in the same journal entry he stated the idealist notion that "Art is life and life is art."

Come back next issue as part two on Keith Haring continues and we cover his what is consider, "The Mature Period."