KEITH HARING

4 July 2011

[Picture of Keith Haring's Radiant Baby]Having done an article on Basquiat, I had to follow up with a Keith Haring tribute!

He became famous for his graffiti, especially his “Radiant Baby” symbol. It was not paint, just chalk drawings on the New York underground system — but it was just amazing!

Keith was a trained and studying artist, and he grew very successful indeed in the early 1980s. He had become a friend of Andy Warhol and Basquiat and was always in the news for getting up to all sorts.  He looked kinda geeky and nerdy too — which helped a great deal, as this was a sought-after look in those days.

He seemed always to be in some country or other doing a mural. He painted weird pop star Grace Jones as I recall.

OK, all that aside, I LOVED his work. It was doodles, almost stick men, but somehow it was just brilliant.  I couldn’t get enough of it. It always cheered me up.

[Picture of a wedding invitation by Haring] [Picture of Keith Haring's dancing people] [Picture of parent and baby by Keith Haring]

They are simply a joy!  He used cartoon lines to suggest movement, but I love it when he does a very old Beano trick of lines representing wonder, beeling, astonishment, embarrassment, amazement, and even love.  How else does one transfer that in art? It reminds me of Oor Wullie more than Lowry. It is personal and personable yet anonymous — you cannot even tell the gender of the adult with the baby – parent? possibly, probably, but more importantly is the love for the baby. (I have had people tell me that it is a mother [pink] with a son [blue], but I am not convinced, and I think it is meant to be open to interpretation — I certainly identify with it as a father.

Haring rode on the street art bandwagon of the early 1980s, but he was very commercial, and marketed well.  However, today he and his work is more firmly identified with AIDS — which I feel is a shame. He was such a great pop artist, and had he lived his art and products would have built him an empire and massive brand identity.

Haring is one of those whose work is immediately identifiable — as such his influence tends to be more in avoiding producing any art that could be mistaken for Haring’s!  I like that he is so much a part of it — yet my kids can copy his work (anyone can).

For me there is a slight irony in that his work began as chalk line men in the subway, and that usually means a crime scene, an homicide, a dead person… yet Haring made the chalk man come to life.  When I see a chalk line today, I more think of happy Haring than of Weegee’s Hell’s Kitchen’s homicides.

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