American Masters Tells the Story of Keith Haring, Who Revolutionized the Worlds of Pop Culture and Fine Art, December 4 on PBS
American Masters – Keith Haring: Street Art Boy premieres nationwide beginning November 28 on PBS (check local listings) and streams Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. on pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app.
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. 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. American Masters – Keith Haring: Street Art Boy features interviews with Fab 5 Freddy, Lee Quinones, Tony Shafrazi, Bill T. Jones, Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, Kurt Andersen, George Condo and others. On February 16, 1990, Haring died at age 31 of AIDS-related complications, making the life-affirming artist a tragic icon of the AIDS crisis.
Noteworthy Facts and Themes:
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.
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.
- 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.
Short TV listing:
Explore the life of artist Keith Haring who revolutionized the worlds of pop culture and fine art.
Long TV listing:
Explore the definitive story of art sensation Keith Haring, who blazed a trail through the art scene of 1980s New York and revolutionized the worlds of pop culture and fine art. The film features previously unheard interviews with the artist.
Run time: 60 minutes
Now in its 34th season on PBS, American Masters illuminates the lives and creative journeys of our nation’s most enduring artistic giants — those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim and 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 200 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.
American Masters – Keith Haring: Street Art Boy is a production of BBC Studios Production 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 American Masters.
Support for American Masters is provided by AARP, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, Judith and Burton Resnick, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Seton J. Melvin, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, and The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation.
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