Drawing the line
I’ve been a fan of Keith Haring’s work since I was a design student in the 1980s. Pre-internet, it wasn’t easy keeping up with art trends, particularly those outside the UK. I came across his work in The Face magazine which was something of a style bible – the art and fashion Yin to the Yang of Smash Hits magazine’s pop and frippery. I had of course also seen his work on record covers which were another mini obsession of mine. His colourful works graced the sleeves of many releases, including those by David Bowie, Malcolm McLaren and Sylvester, amongst dozens of others.
I was always attracted to the work of artists and designers who had a signature style, images that were identifiable without having to look at the credits. I suppose this was about appealing to my brand identity interests as a design student, and today I still enjoy developing a style for clients that transcends a simple logo. It’s the colours, the typefaces, the use of imagery and so many other things that comprise a unified brand. Keith Haring became a brand, but before this he was a street artist, a more colourful but no less political proto-Banksy, spreading his messages and drawing his lines across urban environments of 1980s USA.
When I visited the USA for the first time in the mid-1990s, a visit to his now defunct Pop Shop on Lafayette Street in New York was always early on the agenda of things to do. I would pack my bags with as much as I could get back on the plane with – clothing, hats (pictured), shirts, posters, jigsaws, inflatables, magnets, toys, stationery, badges and stickers. I just could not get enough of the stuff. Over five visits in nearly as many years, I amassed an impressive personal collection, just for the love of the work. I never dreamed that one day the Pop Shop would come to my home town of Liverpool.
It was an absolute thrill to learn that the Tate Gallery was working on a massive exhibition of Haring’s work and when I first heard rumours a couple of years ago, I naturally assumed it was destined for London’s Tate Modern. Most happy to be proved wrong, the show opened in mid-June at Tate Liverpool and runs until 10 November 2019. I attended the private view with good friends and we had such fun seeing the work close-up and even managed a quick cameo in a short promotional film for the show.
I’ve visited large exhibitions of Haring’s work in Italy, the USA and other places, but having it on my doorstep for a few months of 2019 will be something I’ll never forget. The team at Tate Liverpool did not disappoint with exceptional curation that spans the entirety of Haring’s work from student – to his final days. It was wonderful to see so many objects on display, beyond traditional canvases and tarps.
Haring’s astute commercial sensibilities were borne in wanting to spread his messages around the world, making art affordable for all. This is what his Pop Shop was all about and it was great to also see so much merchandise available at Tate. His work remains timeless and its energy has never faded. On visiting the show many times now, I remain saddened at what could have been. Cut down in his prime, Haring was an artist that broke boundaries and embraced many mediums to adapt, grow and experiment. Imagine what he could have done now with the digital technology we have and the internet to propagate his visual passions.
I’ll endeavour to get along to the show a few more times before it ends. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve worn something ‘vintage’ that has always elicited an excited response from the enthusiastic staff at Tate Liverpool and long after the show closes, I’ll keep on flying the flag for the legacy of an artist that continues to inspire, long after his untimely death in 1990 at the ridiculously tender age of 31.