Keith Haring is seen as an innovator with regard to how art is made, distributed and discussed. Initially viewed simply as a graffiti artist who used vacant advertising boards in the New York subway as his canvas in the early 1980s, Keith Haring provoked debate on the street and within the exclusive art establishment with his radiant comic figures and increasingly political messages.
Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created 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. It was just seen as another act of graffiti in East Harlem and it said so on Keith Haring’s $25 summons. But when then Parks Commissioner Henry Stern heard about Haring’s strong anti-drug message “Crack Is Wack”, he asked the artist to finish the mural setting the stage for what is now a cultural landmark in New York City. The work arose out of Haring’s sadness for a friend in the throes of crack addiction. The Parks Department maintains the mural with the help of funding from the Haring Foundation.
I’m a huge fan of Haring’s work and honored his memory in a tribute piece featured in the clip I directed for Foundation entitled “Turn It Up”. He took street art to the galleries and acted as a true cultural conduit. His influence is evident to this day as lay the groundwork for such current popular art icons as KAWS and Shepard Fairey.