The late seventies and early eighties – what springs to mind? Florals, flares, garish prints? Big salaries and bigger hair? Pomp, pretence and bubblegum pop? Yes, welcome to the cliche. Yet amongst a plethora of things that were slightly tongue in cheek sits the incredible Keith Haring.
A church-going, cartoon-drawing shy boy from Kutztown, Keith in later years would be called many things: street artist, party boy, charlatan and social pioneer – the artist who turned art on its head. Just looking at Keith’s work produces that sense of the uncanny; crawling babies and dancing dogs, peace signs and patterns, all of which are common place on t-shirts and post cards today.
Friends with Madonna, Grace Jones and graffiti artist LA 2, Keith’s remarkable public artworks (including subway drawings and subway cars to a painting on the Berlin Wall) fanned the flames of his notoriety. With fame came the call of his original idol – Andy Warhol – with whom he became a life-long friend, calling each other every night before bed to ‘gossip like old ladies.’
And so what is the draw to the late Keith Haring despite his incredible propensity for art? It is that for every iota of iconic style lies a remarkable amount of substance; an all round nice guy, Keith used his art to shed light on a growing drug scene and get help for those suffering via ‘crack is whack.’
Diagnosed with HIV and following the the 80s outbreak of AIDS, Keith’s art fought against bureaucracy, the red-tape and shame that prevented help and change. ‘Silence = Death’ Keith said – what more to say than that? Working up until a month before his death, his campaign helped many.
But in spite of all his commitment to social change, it is Keith’s drive to change art itself that gets me. Although Warhol showed the ordinary as art, consumable, reproducible, transactional at best (“good business is the best art” he said) Keith turned ‘art’ accessible; working for the outcast, the downtrodden as well as the well-to-do, he declared that “art is for everybody” (and we couldn’t agree more!)
Keith, for that (and for some bloody great drawings!) we at Judy’s salute you!
Judy HQ x