This Is Why Keith Haring Got Arrested Numerous Times Favorite 



Jul 1 1982


New York

In the early 1980s Keith Haring created hundreds of drawings in the New York subway system. He used chalk to paint on unused advertising space, which was covered with black sheets of paper. Haring was caught and fined numerous times.

The graffiti peak was exactly when Keith Haring arrived in NYC, and artists started to use just about anything as their canvas. That’s when storefront gates, subway cars and walls were full of graffiti. But Keith Haring, in particular, started to define some interesting ideas and that really started to connect with a lot of people at that time.

Keith enrolled in the SVA and started to work on carton drawings in 1978, but one year later, he started to work with graffiti writers. His focus here was offering a way for people to express themselves and provide a unique insight into the process and the entire experience as a whole.

Manifesting a return to expressive figuration in the art world of the late 1970s (as well as in Haring’s own practice), the subway drawings also represented a unique conflation of studio practice and public art, cartoons and graffiti. Although Haring never identified himself as a graffiti artist, he was arrested many times for defacing public property.

The endeavor began serendipitously when Haring noticed one of these empty advertising spaces with black paper on them in the station at Times Square. He saw that as the perfect place to expand his work and immediately went above ground to buy some chalk. The resulting process of drawing on these panels, a hobby that Haring later called a responsibility fueled his early work.

It was at that time when Keith Haring created numerous drawings in the subway system. Cultivating the project remained an important activity for him until 1985, long after achieving international critical and commercial success. This is a clear testament to his focus on distinctively expressing creative and powerful ideas.

Haring became captivated by the commitment to drawing worthy of risk that for him was one of the many attributes of the work of graffiti artists gaining acceptance at the time. Not wanting to imitate their efforts, and mindful of the science of semiotics to which he had been recently introduced, Haring started to regard the subway as a laboratory for communication and engagement.

Often produced before an audience of commuters, which might include police who could ticket him for vandalism, the drawings emerged at a rate of sometimes 40 a day. When not torn or cut from their locations by admirers, they would eventually be covered with new ads.

The routine disappearance of these works, in fact, became an incentive for their replenishment and a catalyst for constant reinvention. While many were documented by photographer Tseng Kwong Chi (whom Haring would phone upon returning to his studio to provide their locations), most of the drawings went unrecorded, thus creating one of the most epic and ephemeral projects in the history of the city.

Motivated by the contact with a diverse (non-art) audience the Manhattan Transit Authority enabled, Haring, regarded the MTA as an ideal platform for experimenting with a vocabulary of readily identifiable figures, such as the radiant baby, the barking dog, the hovering angel, and the flying saucer, among many others.

Constructed entirely from outlines, each of these characters is staged within a frame lining the perimeter of every black sheet, a unifying trope of Haring’s work that could reference the television screen, the proscenium, or box from a comic strip.

Due to prolific repetition and inexhaustible permutation, these characters assumed the identity of potent signs that could address a range of themes, both topical and universal, in a manner ideally suited to the pace and viewing conditions of commuters.

Graffiti was a very prominent way for artists to express themselves, and Keith Haring started to connect with DJs, break dancers and the hip hop culture as a whole. His work offered some great lessons for making graffiti visible in a hectic and vibrant place like NYC.

Despite all of that, Keith Haring was never recognized as a graffiti artist, which is quite strange considering how many of these he made in the first place. But what he did here was to encompass a subculture that started at the margins of NYC, allowing every artist to express themselves without worrying about problems or limitations.

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For the years that he was active Keith Haring used NYC subways as his canvas for spreading awareness about the aids pandemic, and trying to stop the negative stigma towards the LGBTQ+ community. His artistic style became very notable during the 1980s, and is still known to this day. He was arrested, but his work has been looked at today as revolutionary for being a symbol of socio-political change. People were able to see that the symbols represented them in society, and they realized that these *positive* symbols emphasized that ignorance represented fear. The Keith Haring Foundation was created to provide funding and support to AIDS research, charities and education.