Keith Haring

"A more holistic and basic idea of wanting to incorporate [art] into every part of life, less as an egotistical exercise and more natural somehow...Taking it off the pedestal. I'm giving it back to the people I guess."

- Keith Haring, 1988

Keith Haring's work is based on an interest in simplified iconic forms presented in an art institution or on the street. He was a prolific artist who created images that are both whimsical and politically engaged. By his early twenties, Haring had gained massive popularity inside and outside of the traditional art system.

Haring moved to Pittsburgh in 1976 to attend a graphic advertising school, but dropped out six months later, realizing the artistic limitations of commercial art and advertising. In 1978 he began studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York with artists Josef Kosuth. There, he developed an interest in semiology, the study of signs and symbols, and experimented with video and performance art.

After his studies, Haring became increasingly interested in creating a new type of street language and in 1981 began to draw on the advertising boards in the New York City subway. His work at this time was influenced by artists like Jenny Holzer who also made art for both the street and the gallery. It was his street activity that caught the attention of the Tony Shafrazi gallery in New York, in 1982. The show was a great success, bringing Haring immediate international attention.

The iconography in Haring's work is made up of archetypes, both historical and cultural, often inspired by televisual images. He uses easily identifiable signs such as stick-like human figures, crosses, spirals and circles, punctuating them with radiating lines and dots. In the National Gallery of Canada collection, there are three sculptures. Untitled (Ringed Figure) (1987) is a large, three-dimensional aluminum sculpture painted shiny red with polyurethane enamel based on the stick figure. When installed outdoors, children climb on it, often posing for photographs, honouring the artist's intent of public enjoyment of art.

Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. Before he died in 1990, the artist established the Keith Haring Foundation, in order to continue his charitable support of children's and AIDS related organizations.