Crime-ridden, dangerous, dazzling, full of filth and fear. Nightclubs and subways full of graffiti, cocaine and heroin abuse on every corner. Shocking numbers of street crimes and homicides, crack addiction and prostitution, and a rapid spread of the autoimmune disease AIDS throughout the country. That was New York City during the 1980s – not at all like the clean, safe, cosmopolitan place it is today.
But the New York City of the ‘80s also made a dynamic place for artists. It was rundown and dangerous, but always entertaining. The city was bustling with intensity and creative energy. The ‘80s were a time of transformation, and nowhere did this become as noticeable as in New York City.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1986, Sumi ink on paper, 32.4×40.2cm
One of the emblematic artists of this period is Keith Haring. Often referred to as the pioneer of street art, Haring managed to bridge the gap between the art world and the streets. His art pieces reflect the vibrant nature of the city and are used as a visual language for commenting on issues like exploitation, drug abuse, violence and sexuality. Having been diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Haring also worked tirelessly to encourage victims of the disease to speak out and to give a voice to those who could not be heard.
What makes Haring’s art particularly unique is that it is displayed in public spaces not usually dedicated to art, like sidewalks or subways. Haring saw this as a way of engaging directly with the city and its people. He believed strongly that art should be free to the public, which is why his way of addressing urgent issues was to present his work publicly to multiple audiences, similarly to a graffiti artist.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1988, Acrylic on canvas, 238.8×477.5cm
Haring’s distinct pop-graffiti aesthetic is strongly inspired by Andy Warhol and is recognizable all over the world. His style often includes cartoon-like figures with bold colours and lines. Haring worked closely together with like-minded contemporaries like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, who also had as a goal to create art for the many.
From 14thJune until 10thNovember 2019, Tate Liverpool is hosting the first major UK exhibition dedicated to Keith Haring. Visitors can see more than 85 of Haring’s artworks, ranging from paintings and drawings to photographs and videos displaying 1980s vibrant New York street culture. In the same month, London’s Opera Gallery opened its exhibition American Icons, presenting some of the greatest artistic masterminds of the 20thcentury including Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Keith Haring, Untitled, June 10, 1984, Acrylic on Canvas, 38.8×477.5cm
The power and relevance of Haring’s work has sustained over many decades and manifests itself through the art’s uniqueness and topicality. This year marks 50 years of Pride, a symbol of liberation and celebration for the whole LGBT movement. The fact that Haring himself is known as a prominent LGBT advocate makes the exhibitions especially timely and poignant.
If you are interested in a different angle that shows how various art movements can develop at the same place at the same time, you might be interested in artist Philip Pearlstein. He, like Haring, worked alongside Andy Warhol in his youth and ended up moving to and working as an artist in New York, but took a completely different path with a return to studio painting and the exclusive use of live nude models. In honour of Pearlstein’s 95th birthday, there is currently an exhibition on show at Galerie Templon, rue Beaubourg, Paris, until 20th July 2019.
Read our article about Philip Pearlstein here
See these and other works at Opera Gallery.comAmerican Icons recreates a vibrant discovery of this post-war era through some of the greatest artistic masterminds of the 20th century such as Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.See more of his work at The Tate Liverpool.comTake a look at the Philip Pearlstein Exhibition at www.templon.com