Thursday, February 10, 2011

Visual Language

A few years back I caught an exhibition of work by Keith Haring at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. At the time I was familiar with the name and with a few of the artist’s more well-known and often reproduced works, but had no real depth of understanding about Haring or the scope of this work. The Whitney exhibition was a huge and impressive show and I walked out of the museum dizzy with with the impact of Haring’s color and near-animated lines.

Haring died in 1990 at the age of thirty-two from AIDS related symptoms. In 1980-81 his drawings began appearing in New York subway stations, hastily drawn line drawings in white chalk done directly onto the black slate surface of advertising panels. It was from these graffiti-like drawings that the artist began to attract attention. Haring found his inspiration in the graffiti art he discovered upon arriving in New York from Pennsylvania at the age of nineteen, seeing this kind of art as knocking down the barriers separating high and low art. Much of his work is influenced by socio-political ideas, and a number of his posters and murals make strong statements on Apartheid, on AIDS and on the epidemic of crack cocaine afflicting New York during the 1980s. His work became a visual language of twentieth century issues and can be seen in the giant murals he painted in cities around the world, including Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Sydney and Pisa, Italy. In a relatively short span of years Keith Haring left a gigantic footprint in the world of Modern art. Examples of his work are below.

Portrait of the artist Keith Haring; undated, probably 1986-87

Untitled, January 20, 1990; acrylic and felt-tip marker on terracotta urn

Photograph of the artist by Annie Liebovitz, 1986; edition of 40

Untitled silkscreen, undated

T-shirt design from Haring’s New York Pop Shop, 1986; Haring did many posters in a similar design.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America