In the late ‘70s Keith Haring took to the streets of New York armed only with a stick of white chalk. The artist would spontaneously cover the black paper panels of unused subway advertisements, subverting the commercial nature of the space he drew on, appealing to an audience both young and old. Writer Lucia Davies, in her Issue #6 profile, reveals Haring’s desire to bring art to the masses, and questions whether or not the artist was behind the emergence of the pop-up shop phenomenon…
Profile: Keith Haring
After leaving the School of Visual Arts in 1979, unmotivated by traditional art institutions, Keith Haring took to the streets of New York. With only a stick of white chalk Haring began to create his own unique marks. Different from the aggressive and provocative gang graffiti of the time, the artist’s work appealed like the action painting of Pierre Alechinksy, Jean Dubuffet, Christo and Henri Matisse; seductive and symbolic his artworks carried a deeper message far beyond simply being a decorative filler.
Reaching out to an audience of city commuters Haring steadfastly made a name for himself through his distinct visual language – over the next five years he would go on to make as many as 40 drawings a day. Whilst the subway was his experimental urban underground, on ground Haring’s work was receiving meteoric success – coveted by collectors, critics and worldwide institutions Haring was invited to and represented in as far reaching places as Britain, Japan, Australia, Brazil and his home country America.
Graphically simple and easy to read, Haring’s work is by no means lacking. Consciously primitivistic, Haring had an incredible ability to create powerful imagery with poignant messages using minimal – but perfectly precise – mark making. Colourful, energetic and recognisable, the immediacy and directness of Haring’s drawings are what have given his work a long lasting appeal and widespread success. Believing that art was “still being manipulated by and for the wealthy, educated, white minority,” he wished to stretch far beyond the existing power structure – to appeal to a wider audience by acting as the intermediary between the world of art and the streets of New York. “It has become increasingly clear to me,” Haring once said," that art is not an elitist activity reserved for the appreciation of a few, but for everyone, and that is the end toward which I will continue to work.”