When it comes to pop art there are a handful of names which come to mind, at least when asking those in the Hip-Hop generation. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring are three giants of that world, and with their deaths now belonging in the confines of previous generations, art’s ability to withstand their loss continues to make all of them as contemporary as they are classic. For Basquiat and Haring, New York City in the 1980s served as their canvas, both proverbial and literal. Haring began to make a name for himself through his deceptively simple imagery, but for what it lacked in technical complexity, it more than made up for in cultural influence. The Reading, Pennsylvania artist would eventually make the pilgrimage to New York City that so many of his peers did, as it continued to be the place to witness and contribute to street culture. He soon found a place for himself among the dark alleys, subway tunnels, and urban landscapes the city provided, and by 1982, he had earned the attention of highfalutin art purveyors, the mainstream media, and the police.
In a nearly 35-year old clip from CBS Sunday Morning, a relatively young Dan Rather can be seen introducing a profile piece by renowned newsman Charles Osgood, who details Haring’s foray into the underground art world, where the young artist used his work to deliver messages of awareness, love, political involvement, sex, and more. Haring is featured creating works on camera, with nothing but chalk and an empty ad space to bring forth his creativity. Haring describes his technique, saying “you don’t have to know anything about art to appreciate it,” and appreciate it they did (and still do). During his life, Haring was able to command upwards of $20,000 for some of his creations, many of which ended up on the walls of galleries and in the homes of the influential. Always present in his subway art was the illegality of his behavior, but a little danger adds a lot of interest, and within a couple of years, Haring’s work became a pop-culture phenomenon, featured on all sorts of merchandise from T-shirts to key chains. His influence has also extended far into the Hip-Hop world, with Adidas recently releasing a Keith Haring and Run-D.M.C.-inspired shoe.
Only 24-years-old when this piece aired, Haring would tragically pass away in 1990 due to complications from AIDS. There is no doubt, however, that he continues to live on, thanks to indelible works like his “Crack Is Wack” mural which continues to inspire, three decades later.