Table of Contents
KEITH HARING JOURNALS
KEITH HARING was born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was raised in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania. From an early age he developed an appreciation for art and cartoons like those of Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. In 1978 Haring moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA), where he found a thriving alternative art community. As a student at SVA, Haring experimented with performance, video, installation, and collage, but retained his loyalty to drawing. His desire to reach a wider audience led him to create drawings in white chalk upon the blank paper panels throughout the subway system. Happy to have found such an effective medium, Haring produced hundreds of these public drawings from 1980 to 1985, sometimes creating as many as forty “subway drawings” in one day. Having achieved international recognition for his works, Haring also participated in gallery exhibitions, and in April 1986 opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in SoHo selling T-shirts, posters, and accessories all bearing his famous drawings. Between 1982 and 1989 he produced more than fifty public artworks in dozens of cities around the world, often for charities, hospitals, children’s day-care centers, and orphanages. The now-famous “Crack is Wack” mural of 1986 has become a landmark along New York’s FDR Drive. Keith Haring died of AIDS-related complications on February 16, 1990. He was thirty-one years old.
ROBERT FARRIS THOMPSON, Master of Timothy Dwight College at Yale, has devoted his life to the serious study of the art history of the Afro-Atlantic world. His first book,
Black Gods and Kings,
was a close iconographic reading of the art history of the forty million Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. He has published texts on the structure and meaning of African dance,
African Art in Motion,
and a reader on the art history of the Black Americas,
Flash of the Spirit,
which has remained in print since its publication in 1983. Thompson has published two books on the bark cloth art of the pygmies of the Ituri Forest, plus the first international study of altars of the Black Atlantic world,
Face of the Gods,
and most recently
Tango: The Art History of Love
. In addition, he studies the art of José Bedia and Guillermo Kuitca and has been anthologized fifteen times. Some of his works have been translated into French, German, Flemish, and Portuguese.
SHEPHARD FAIRY is the man behind Obey Giant, the graphics that have changed the way people see art and the urban landscape. What started with an absurd sticker he created in 1989 while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design has since evolved into a worldwide street art campaign, as well as an acclaimed body of fine art. In 2003, Fairey founded Studio Number One, a creative design firm dedicated to applying his ethos at the intersection of art and enterprise. Fairey’s art reached a new height of prominence in 2008, when his “Hope” portrait of Barack Obama became the iconic image of the presidential campaign and helped inspire an unprecedented political movement.
eISBN : 978-1-101-19561-1
A NOTE ON SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
It is clear from Keith Haring’s comments in his journals that he expected they would ultimately be read by others. He left dozens of handwritten notebooks, with line drawings, containing a wide range of material—from extended thoughts on work in progress to minimal notations, sketches, quotes, and reading lists. Sometimes the writing concentrated on his work, other times on relationships and the events of his daily life. As his career took off and his life became increasingly complex he wrote less frequently—often in the peaceful sanctuary of airplanes—and there are substantial chronological gaps as a result. In some instances material he wrote for other purposes has been inserted to aid in continuity. The editing and publication of these journals was initiated and overseen by Julia Gruen and David Stark of The Keith Haring Foundation, with the assistance of editor Ellen Williams and Viking Penguin editor David Stanford. For ease of reading there are no ellipses to indicate where material has been left out. Ellipses and arrangement of material in the finished book reflect Haring’s own usage. Obvious errors of spelling and punctuation have been corrected throughout.
SPECIAL THANKS TO
Jeffrey Deitch • Shepard Fairey • Suzanne Geiss
Julia Gruen • David Hockney • Madonna • Annelise Ream
Elda Rotor • Robert Farris Thompson
Though Keith Haring died only two years after I started making street art, his art and practice had already had a profound impact on me. Haring demonstrated that one could create art on the street that differed from the more pervasive lettering-based graffiti. He also showed me that the same artists could not only affect people on the streets, they could also put their art on T-shirts and record covers, as well as have their work respected, displayed, and sold as fine art. Inspired by Keith Haring’s achievements, I pursued my art career with the optimism that my goals could be attained.
Anyone familiar with the career of Keith Haring knows he was a prolific artist with a distinct style that was simultaneously refined and primitive, deliberate yet lyrical and energetic. Clearly he aspired to create art with purity and integrity, but to do so in an accessible way so it could be shared with people. He was also widely known to pursue his art with a deeply personal vision, as a champion of social justice and a believer in the interconnectedness of humanity. The worlds Haring deftly navigated and the barriers he attempted to break down have been extensively noted by art critics.
However, it’s one thing to see an artist’s work and hear critical analysis, and another altogether to hear an artist’s own thoughts, ideas, hopes, fears, questions, and most profound philosophies in his own words. Haring, as viewed through the prism of success, cannot compare to the thoughts revealed in his journals as they follow his evolution as an artist and human being, his rise to fame, and his eventual diagnosis as HIV positive.
One of the many insights Haring shares in his journals is that fame changes people’s perceptions. In 1989, Haring wrote, “People keep asking me how success has changed me. I always say that success has changed people’s responses and behavior toward me and that has affected me, but it has not really changed me. I feel the same on the inside as I did 10 years ago.” Through Haring’s journals, one bypasses the detached academic evaluations of his work as art history and finds the artist’s own documentation and catharsis as he develops his identity and philosophy.
It’s nothing short of remarkable how developed and sophisticated Keith Haring’s worldview was at a very young age. Upon arriving at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1978 at only twenty years old, Haring begins to lay out his ideas about art and life. Haring’s populism is demonstrated early on, and eventually manifests in many forms. “The public has a right to art” and “Art is for everybody” are ideas that can be found in his journals from that time, and remained consistent throughout his career.
Traveling the New York subways, Haring immediately took note of the surrounding visuals. The graffiti and advertising posters seen on and around the subways influenced Haring as not only aesthetic references but also as accessible images in the public right-of-way. He engaged with the pervasive forces of advertising as repetitive and graphically engaging, and graffiti as free-spirited, fluid transgression, sometimes interacting with or commenting on the advertising. Haring illuminated his transition from an observer of these visuals to a participant, adding his own work into the negative area in ads and other spaces of opportunity in the public environment. He discusses his idea of his paintings as visual poems, with hieroglyphics or pictograms open to interpretation by the viewer. His journals provide ample evidence that the visual language he developed was not simply justified by retroactive intellectualization, but evolved from a desire to fulfill a very clear vision.
Haring had an unwavering belief in individuality, that no two human beings are alike. He didn’t want to be categorized as part of an art group or movement, yet he believed we are all part of a whole, and his empathy with humanity was strong and consistent throughout his career. He states, “I don’t think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity instead of manipulating it.”
It isn’t surprising that Haring chose to tackle social issues in his art. Children’s health, the fight against the crack and AIDS epidemics, and the battle to end apartheid in South Africa were just a few causes Haring championed. Haring discusses money and charity, saying, “Money itself is not evil, in fact it can actually be very effective for good if it is used properly. You have to be objective about money to use it fairly. It doesn’t make you any better or more useful than any other person. Even if you use your money to help people . . . that doesn’t make you better than somebody who has no money but is sympathetic and genuinely loving to fellow humans.” Haring cared about people.