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"The Child-Like Genius"

Keith Haring, Radiant Baby

Last night was yet another one of those nights. You know...those nights where you slip into your favorite, most comfy pair of pajama pants, grab a bunch of yummy snacks off of the pantry and proceed to make your way to your bed where you will wrap yourself inside of a giant blanket burrito. This is when you open up your laptop, ready to put on a show, a movie--anything that will help you take the load off for the day. This was me, and my choice of entertainment for the night was youtube. Everybody knows that when you say you will sit down and watch one, maybe two youtube videos and call it a night, it always turns out to be more like ten to twenty. Every. Single. Time. I too, limited myself to one video on this night when deep inside, I knew that by then I would be just beginning to dive into my snacks and entering relaxation mode. About an hour later, there I was--same position and ten chocolate chip cookies in--watching a Jack Russel Terrier video, anticipating how many balloons he'd be able to pop in under a minute. It was just a few minutes later that my "for you" page began recommending art videos and I encountered the video that made my whole youtube binge worthwhile---a Keith Haring documentary.

I have admired Keith Haring's bold use of color, line and animated imagery ever since I found out about him. However, I had never really dug deep into the person that he was prior to the documentary. As a result, I had never fully understood the intention behind some of his most famous pop art pieces. Even then, I grew huge respect for him. There's just something about him that makes me sit there in awe for long periods of time, just wishing I could have come up with such clever and mind blowing content first.

After informing myself on who Keith Haring was this past week, I can easily sum up and say that he was an extremely fun and daring human being. Something that instantly stood out to me about his art is the fact that his crazy line compositions came out from his interest in hip-hop music. Haring absolutely loved his hip-hop. So much, that he would play it every time he worked just so that he would be able to execute the same vibrant energy across his images. He was also inspired by all of the graffiti that he would encounter living in New York City, which is what persuaded him to begin illustrating in underground subway stations. He would fill empty poster slots with chalk, which quickly began to turn heads and create excitement to the people that walked by them everyday. Each day, they would see that Haring had decorated the walls with yet another one of his intriguing pieces. Haring once explained how more than a couple of times, he had been handcuffed by a police officer for vandalizing, and right before he was taken to a the police station, there'd be a fan there, eager to meet him and shake his hand.

It isn’t hard to tell that Haring’s symbols and lines all come together to discuss modern day political and social events. They particularly respond to the subjects of racism, homophobia, drug abuse, AIDS, and just overall political control. One of his most well-known pieces is his Crack is Wack mural that discusses the dangerous crack cocaine use that was going on in New York City at the time. He made this piece big enough so that every car, every person would be able to see it from a far. Many of his other pieces involve concepts that he personally resonated with. Being an openly gay artist, he based a lot of his subject manner on the LGBTQ community as well as the AIDS epidemic given that he was unfortunately diagnosed with AIDS disease in 1988. One of my favorite pieces that correlates to these topics is his abstract piece titled Safe Sex (1988). When describing the piece in his bibliography, he explains how “things ha[d] seriously changed in New York, and in [his] life, because the horror of AIDS had come to light.” Through this piece, he brought up the idea of having sex in a safely manner and inspired individuals to become more aware of what they were doing. He suggested that everyone take the necessary precautions to avoid having to deal with AIDS, something he was so regretful of having contracted. It makes me so sad to know that Keith Haring died from AIDS related complications in 1990 at the early age of 31, just two years after contracting the disease. But through the Keith Haring Foundation, a foundation he began as a focus for his platform, his name remains legendary. This piece truly became a brand name product that continues to move forward the movement that raises awareness and informs communities everywhere that AIDS can in fact be spread through sexual contact.

The Radiant Baby is my personal favorite of Haring’s symbols. This one is arguably the most recognizable among all his pieces. Haring explained how this baby--which appears to be crawling on the floor--is meant to represent youthful innocence, purity and goodness. A baby is a being that has just barely entered the world. This means that at that point, he has so much to uncover and learn. Babies are gentle, pure, loving--they are a hope for the future. This baby often appears alone, but not lonely. This is to say that he is independent and strong. Haring here, is praising the idea of being a child. He loved working with children and enjoyed their sense of humor and imagination skills. In 1986, he worked with 900 young children to paint a mural to celebrate the Statue of Liberty's 100th anniversary. He also often worked with charities and painted murals in their honor, many times in hospitals.

In sum, I feel as though Keith Haring is an artist that we should all look towards for inspiration. I know that from now on I always will. His bravery to speak upon his own personal struggles and experiences with no shame is so admiring to watch unfold among each and everyone of his artworks. Throughout each of them, he chooses to open up and talk about the hard things so that those that are experiencing similar things can come to feel less alone. Haring is a conversation starter, so I say, lets be conversation starters too!

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