July 3, 2014

Art Basel HK 2014: Keith Haring

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Keith Haring (1958 - 1990) was an American artist and social activist. His style was pop and graffiti art, characterised by his iconic humanoids, dynamic lines, and splashes of colour, often in neon. He first garnered attention with his public art in New York subways. A highly commercial artist, he ran stores that sold memorabilia of his designs called the Pop Shop; besides that, one of his works was a jacket worn by Madonna for a performance of her classic song "Like A Virgin".

Common themes in Haring's work included birth, death, sexuality, and war. Somewhat like South African artist William Kentridge in my previous blog post, Haring's art had a dual nature to it. While his art was cheerful thanks to its pop art nature and affirming messages on life and unity, it also depicted the stigma and alienation the homosexual community and HIV/AIDS sufferers experienced in the 1980's - both communities of which Haring belonged to. That sexuality was portrayed as nightmarish, often with skeletons, wild beasts and monsters, probably reflects Haring's internalisation of the struggle experienced by gays in having to live out their lives and loves under wraps.

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Haring, "Ignorance = Fear", 1989

Haring also spoke out against the crack cocaine epidemic, with his double-sided playground mural titled "Crack is Wack". A prolific artist, he also worked in collage and sculpture.

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Conscious of his impending death coupled with having to witness the deaths of friends due to AIDS, Haring nonetheless strove to produce more art in his remaining time. Contemporary art curator and essayist Barry Blinderman wrote beautifully, to tie it up:

"Haring's way of living life – liberated and with death in mind at a young age – allowed him to pull himself away from his diagnosis."

Images from: here, here.

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