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AMERICAN MASTERS: Keith Haring: Street Art Boy

Stream or tune in Friday, Dec. 4, 2020 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2

Keith Haring sitting on artwork. (undated photo)

Credit: Courtesy of The Haring Foundation

Above: Keith Haring sitting on artwork. (undated photo)

AMERICAN MASTERS Tells the Story of Keith Haring, Who Revolutionized the Worlds of Pop Culture and Fine Art

Between 1980-1990, Keith Haring established himself as an art world celebrity and pop culture icon with a distinctive and instantly recognizable style that came to define the decade. This new documentary film is the definitive story of the artist in his own words.

Following Haring’s AIDS diagnosis, he told writer and art critic John Gruen the story of his life in intimate and candid detail in 1989 for his biography. These previously unheard interviews form the narrative of AMERICAN MASTERS “Keith Haring: Street Art Boy.”

Keith Haring: Street Art Boy: Trailer

Explore the definitive story of international art sensation Keith Haring who blazed a trail through the art scene of ‘80s New York and revolutionized the worlds of pop culture and fine art. The film features previously unheard interviews with Haring. Airing: 12/04/20

With exclusive, unprecedented access to the Haring Foundation’s archives, the film captures the wild, creative energy behind Haring’s art and the downtown New York culture of the 1980s that inspired him.

Haring’s closest friends, family and collaborators — from the sleepy Kutztown, Pennsylvania of his youth to the mythic gay nightclubs of New York City — share revealing memories.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Haring Foundation

Keith Haring (right) and Fab 5 Freddy (undated photo).

The film features interviews with Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones, Tony Shafrazi, Bill T. Jones, Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, Kurt Andersen, George Condo and others.

On Feb. 16, 1990, Haring died at age 31 of AIDS-related complications, making the life-affirming artist a tragic icon of the AIDS crisis.

Keith Haring's brush with celebrity culture

As Keith Haring became more famous, he got to know the biggest celebrities of the era, referring to them by their first names. It started with Andy (Warhol), and continued with Brooke (Shields), Michael (Jackson), Farrah (Fawcett), Yoko (Ono), and more. "Getting to hobnob with everybody on Hollywood Squares was like a whole ‘nother level of fame that he really relished." Airing: 12/04/20

Haring’s early career:

  • Born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby Kutztown, Haring became interested in art at a young age. He was influenced by Disney, the Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, and his father Allen, a keen amateur cartoonist.
  • A conventional middle-class childhood was followed by a teenage curiosity that drew Haring to religion. He joined the evangelical Jesus movement, then turned to the counterculture, drugs and the Grateful Dead, hitchhiking across America, making and selling T-shirts along the way.
  • In 1978, Haring dropped out of college in Pittsburgh and moved to New York, where he joined the School of Visual Arts as a scholarship student.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Haring Foundation

Keith Haring and Juan Dubose polaroid, 1982.

Haring and downtown New York culture:

  • Haring immersed himself in the underground downtown art and music scene, home to new wave and punk.
  • He became a fixture at Club 57, where he organized shows, made friends and creative connections with fellow artists like Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and experienced his identity as a gay man in an environment that celebrated queer culture.
  • New York also exposed Haring to graffiti. He valued the direct connection to the public and began creating art using white chalk on empty black advertising panels in the subway.
  • He called the New York City subway his “laboratory,” experimenting with ideas and form through the hundreds of drawings he made there over a five-year period.

Meet Keith Haring's art dealer, famous for defacing Picasso

Once Keith Haring's work started to create a buzz in the art world, he needed to find an art dealer to help him. He chose Tony Shafrazi, a big personality who was infamous for defacing Picasso's "Guernica" at the Museum of Modern Art. "He believed in protest against war and was committed enough to stand up to what he knew would be incredible attacks from the art world. I respected that." Airing: 12/04/20

Haring’s legacy:

  • Encouraged by Andy Warhol, in 1986, Haring opened The Pop Shop in Soho, which sold his own designs on T-shirts, badges, watches, magnets and prints for everyday prices.
  • Haring continued to make public works, painting over 50 vast public murals (often in hospitals and children’s centers) in Melbourne, Paris, Pisa, Monaco, Barcelona, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and on the Berlin Wall.
  • In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation to raise money for AIDS organizations and children’s programs. He demonstrated publically against the stigma and prejudice associated with the disease.
  • Haring’s art was shown in over 100 group and solo exhibitions during his lifetime and he continues to be celebrated as a major artist today, with works on display in exhibitions and museums around the world.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Haring Foundation

Keith Haring, Pisa mural, June 1989.

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film will be available for streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.

Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Haring Foundation

Keith Haring (undated photo)

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A production of BBC Studios for PBS and BBC with THIRTEEN Productions LLC. Filmed, directed and produced by Ben Anthony. Executive Producer Janet Lee. Producer Alice Rhodes. Michael Kantor is executive producer for THIRTEEN’s AMERICAN MASTERS.


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