My mother was an avid Diet Coke drinker back in the day so I knew what those shiny aluminum cans looked like almost just as well as I knew how my mother looked. The black and red font on a silver can was the classic identifier for the drink. I distinctly remember being asked to go to the refrigerator to go grab one for dinner one night and being awestruck by the new look the cans had taken. They had these beautiful thick blacks lines and a red heart; perfectly matching the can’s usual color scheme. Only after a while of looking at the can did I realize that those thick black lines were two people uplifting a big red heart. I thought it was the neatest thing in the world then, so I begged my mom to let me have one too- or at least to let me keep her can when she was done with it. That was the very first time I saw the work of Keith Haring. I didn’t know who had designed it then, but as I got more into the arts as I got older I looked into who it was that created that design that had excited my little heart.
Conveniently, Keith Haring was born in 1958, at the very beginnings of the counterculture movement, to Joan and Allen Haring in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. His father was a cartoon artist, so from a very young age Haring had a relationship with art, albeit very stylized. He grew up developing cartoons and stories but did not parallel that with being an artist. To Haring those were separate. He loved Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss, but also the artists of the times like Andy Warhol. When it came time for Haring to go to college, because of his talent he was urged to go to the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburg. He was unhappy with the idea of being a commercial artist and dropped out after a year. He then made his way to the School of Visual Arts in New York. There he made friends with the people he felt most alike and inspired by; the artists of the New York City underground subway system, downtown alleys, and clubs.
Making friends with the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and later even his idol Andy Warhol.
The move to New York is what really allowed Haring to flourish as an artist. He spent much time around the subway and one day noticed blank black panels where advertisements were meant to be displayed. He decided to take some white chalk and create a drawing with thick bold lines on the black surface. He was happy with the results and took it upon himself to draw on each and every blank black advertising surface he could find. Riding from stop to stop looking for these black squares to draw on, Keith Haring and his drawings quickly took over the underground subway system. He half expected for the chalk drawings to get messed with or covered up but when he’d go back and check on the drawings he was pleased to find them unharmed. What he didn’t expect was for the everyday New York commuter to recognize him and his art.