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Keith Haring–A Shape-Changer

Last week while we were in New York City, we stopped by the Brooklyn Museum   to see a retrospective   Keith Haring: 1978–1982.

The Haring exhibit presents rarely seen archival  works, including seven videos, and artist notebooks of Haring’s evolution as an artist dating back to his time as a student at the School of Visual Arts in New York.  As an openly gay artist who died of AIDS before his 32nd birthday, Haring was just gaining momentum when his life ended.  Some of the pages from his remarkable diary/notebooks can be viewed online (http://keithharing.tumblr.com/) and expose the reader not only to his creative insights but also to his daily reflections–more memoir than manual.

The exuberance and childlike energy of Haring’s art reverberates loud and strong.  Dazzling, eye-catching compositions without subtlety or hesitation, are rendered in primary colors of red, blue, and yellow with a liberal use of black and white. Wriggling lines, small dots and dashes like Morse code painted with  sumi ink, charcoal, gouache and collaged newspaper headlines in mixed media compositions–all  pay tribute to the contribution Keith Haring made not only to fine art but to its cousin, graphic design.

Keith Haring’s intellect is formidable, revealing a fascination with calligraphy, hieroglyphics, and semiotics.  Almost all of his art represents an unwavering attraction to the form and meaning of text.  Linear thinking, often considered the death knell of creativity, is exploited in his art, transformed into the purest of lines, shapes, and angles not unlike letters and numbers.  The directness of line is not delicate.

The paradox of the child’s primary colors with images of babies and dogs only underscores the aggressiveness in some of the outlines, with just the slightest humor, restlessness and whimsy to intrigue and entice the onlooker. Humor and an erotic honesty (only subversively expressed prior to Haring), are displayed with a seemingly childlike obliviousness to response. His enthusiasm is contagious!

  Visit the exhibit online (http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/keith_haring/) and  enjoy the geometric constellations of line, form and color in some of Keith Haring’s best work.

Comments (4)

  • 4 years ago, when in NYC, I bought a t-shirt with a Keith Haring image. I’ve always loved his images, but knew nothing about him or even his body of work.

    You’ve done it again – I’ve learned something about art and myself!

  • Hi Diana: I think one of the most interesting things about Haring is that he started out as a grafitti artist. He painted a little black dog all over New York. I didn’t see any reference to that in either your article or the blurb about the exhibit you sent a link for. It’s an interesting and often paradox that an artist who is rebellious and and prefers to be anti the bourgeois contentment of any period becomes a part of the accepted “artist” crowd. Basquiet was the same as was Andy Warhol and any number of “artists” who were against the status quo. Now, after he’s dead” he’s a real artist.

    • I agree with your comment about graffiti/street art. Before there was Basquiat and Banksy, there was Keith Haring, their rightful progenitor. The Brooklyn Museum exhibit has videos of his painting in the NYC subway stations, painting beautiful erotic murals. Most of those are not seen online, unfortunately, but only in person as an exhibit such as the one we saw last week. The video of his painting on huge canvas, dancing to music as he painted on all fours, was really entertaining as well! Thanks for your comment!

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