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Keith Haring | Creator of the radiant boys: a world of flamboyantly coloured men

ita | eng

I am realising that art is no longer reserved to the elite: art is for everyone, this is the end to which I aspire | Keith Haring

In a New York filled with Pop Art and barely legal experiences, where extreme art and promiscuity are key, a new imaginary world inhabits the city. Asexual and flamboyantly coloured, these images are born of Keith Haring‘s imagination.

Keith Haring, an American artist known worldwide for his Pop Art, was born in 1958. From an early age he came into contact with the cartoon world thanks to his father, who worked for the industry and always encouraged his son to develop his artistic talents. The characters born from the pencils of Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss, with their black contours and vivid colours, had a major influence in Haring’s work. So much so, that they became characteristic to his work.

His visit to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. was fundamental in his growth as an artist. It was there he discovered the Pop Art genius of Andy Warhol, defining his path from then on forward. His first solo exhibition was in 1978, and the following year he moved to New York City where he established a friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat –important figure in the American Pop scene. His move to New York is of great importance to his work, as it allowed him to work on whatever surface he found available on the streets. His art soon became of public domain, and pursing his idea that art should be made for everyone, in 1986 he set up a Pop Shop where he sold printed gadgets and t-shirts of his work.

In the same years New York was harbouring a dangerous spectre: AIDS. It was a delicate moment in time, in which even though many were cautious and used protection, they were never 100% sure. Haring soon discovered he was HIV positive, and even though the disease will debilitated even more ad the days passed, he never stopped creating his art. A year before his death, in 1989 with the earnings from his Pop Shop, he founded the Keith Haring Foundation in support of organizations dedicated to children and the battle against AIDS.

I work with concepts, ideas, universal images; not archetypes or stereotypes. I work on things that pertain to common experiences, to common knowledge. My images don’t come from the unconscious, they come from visual information, they are instinctive not interior. They are common to everyone | Keith Haring

Haring’s bizarre bi-dimensional characters, which include dogs, angels, monsters, pyramids, PCs, televisions, children are known as radiant boys. They have strong and decisive colours and are outlined in black. He drew them on any available wall in NYC, and from 1985, thanks to Warhols advice, on canvases as well. Each of these images hides a message, they were denouncing hot topics of his time, like capitalism, racism, social injustice, AIDS and drugs.

For example, his work Crack is Wack (1986) is condemning the use of crack cocaine; and Rebel with many causes (1989) uses the well known “don’t see, don’t hear, don’t speak” metaphor, represented here by three radiant boys, to denounce those that don’t feel comfortable talking about AIDS and human rights.

The last mural he created, Tuttomondo, found on the posterior wall of the Frati Servi a Maria convent in Pisa, was a challenge brought by an Italian student studying in the U.S., Piergiorgio Castellani. Tired of feeling oppressed by the American market, which was sucking all his energy, Haring moved to Italy. The result was this astonishing mural (10m l x 18m h): it depicts thirty people who interact with one another and create the energy that generates the world. The love and compassion emitting from this mural is universal, and recognized by all; the same way Haring’s art is.

Haring’s pop art was able to take down the walls delimiting high quality art and low quality. He was able to touch everyone’s conscience, emotion, through his art. He liberalized public art forms, creating it on city walls and allowing it to become so viral that he was granted the possibility to project his work (on a loop) on the maxi screen in Times Square – a video that shows how he created his work. His good friend Madonna, dedicated the first stop of her Blood ambition world tour to her departed friend, and donated the proceeds to AIDS charities.

Translation by Ludovica Sarti

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