Keith Haring

Early Drawings

21 October 2006 - 7 January 2007

BALTIC presents an exhibition by seminal artist Keith Haring. Haring’s work responded to the street culture of New York in the 1980s, and he used the directness of graffiti art to make his signature style known. Powerfully combining the voice of the street and the voice of the gallery system, he created a visual language which has become universally recognised.

BALTIC will display a series of drawings created during an extremely immersive time when the artist returned to drawing after his time as a student at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), New York when he experimented widely with video, performance and installation. Though he always maintained a strong commitment to drawing, in 1980 the longing to devote more time, energy and focus upon this medium became overwhelming, and it was during this period that he developed his unique visual language.

This is the first time these drawings have been displayed in the UK. The exhibition consists of 3 series of early drawings, a total of 27 individual works. One of the series was created specifically for the magazine P.I.M - Public Illumination Magazine, ‘the world's smallest magazine of its kind’ (7 cm x 11 cm). Independently produced in New York and still published, each issue has a theme and Haring contributed to issue #13, in 1981, on the theme of Civilization. Here, we see a continuation of his signature vocabulary in these surreal and engaging visual narratives with their direct and appealing comic strip style.

Drawing was Haring’s passion from an early age; the abstract language gave space to more complex and figurative visual language that would characterise the rest of his career. He used a very personal language and style, to communicate basic emotions through creating timeless images. A greatly influential artist, he was able to communicate to many generations and across many cultural boundaries. He was also highly committed to social causes, putting his art to the service of the community to make a contribution towards the arrest of the spread of AIDS, drug addictions, fighting for gay rights and against racial discrimination, but most of all acting on behalf of children.

During a brief but intense career Haring’s work was featured in over 100 solo and group exhibitions. He was highly sought after to participate in special projects and collaborated with artists and performers such as Madonna, Grace Jones, Bill T. Jones, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Jenny Holzer and Andy Warhol. By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience and assure the accessibility and staying power of his imagery, which has become a universally recognised visual language of the 20th century.

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