Saturday at Tate Liverpool with Keith Haring

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A University of Liverpool Continuing Education Study Day, 6 July By Dr Lee Kendall, Continuing Education Lecturer

Dr Lee Kendall‘s new course “Titanic: Romancing Disaster, 1912-2012” begins from Tuesday 8 October at 126 Mount Pleasant, University of Liverpool.

At the time of his death aged 31 American street artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) was arguably one of the most famous painters in the world. His signature cartoon style and pop inflected iconography featuring barking dogs, break-dancers, UFOs and radiant babies had become synonymous with both underground and mainstream New York City culture, known and recognised all over the world; somehow emblematising and reflecting the drug fuelled hedonism, energy and excess of the 1980s. Tate Liverpool’s summer 2019 Keith Haring exhibition, curated by Darren Pih with the assistance of Tamar Hemmes, represents the first opportunity for UK audiences to experience the full range of the late artist’s work in a gallery setting and by common critical consensus is the must-see show of the year.

The University of Liverpool’s Keith Haring: Silence = Death study day, which took place on Saturday 6 July, offered a unique opportunity to explore the multifaceted nature of Haring’s work inside the relaxed atmosphere of Tate Liverpool’s ground floor conference room. The morning session comprised a mixture of power-point presentations designed to complement and contextualise the other work on display.

Following an introduction which explored Haring’s Republican conservative upbringing in rural Pennsylvania and artistic influences including Walt Disney, Pierre Alechinsky, Jean Dubuffet and Brion Gysin, the first presentation: “Street Art NYC 1878-1982: The Graffiti Generation” traced the powerful influence of graffiti/street art on Haring’s development as an artist through an exploration of work by Mom Lee (Lee Quiñones), Fab 5 Freddy, Samo (Jean Michel Basquiat) and LA II as well as the ultimate creation of Haring’s Subway Drawings, produced in their many thousands between 1980-1985. Two of Haring’s close friendships, with pop singer Madonna and painter Jean Michel Basquiat were examined in the second presentation “The Unholy Three” in which the three self-proclaimed ‘outsiders’ came together to take on the world, concurrent with their nascent nightclub backgrounds at Mudd Club, Danceteria, Club 57 and the Paradise Garage. The third presentation “Warhol, Haring and the Pop Shop Phenomenon” highlighted the key influence of Andy Warhol on Haring’s practice as a print maker and his recognition of Haring as a major talent, shepherding the creation of Haring’s commercial sensibilities. The morning session finished with a first guided tour of the Keith Haring exhibition. Attendees were treated to a discussion of Haring’s early video piece “Painting Myself into a Corner” (1979), his rap sheet following one of his many arrests for ‘destruction of public property’; the recreation of the blacklight room, from Haring’s exhibition at Tony Shafrazi gallery in 1982 and the monumental showstopper “The Matrix” (1983) painted for Wadsworth Atheneum.

The afternoon session began with a group discussion/workshop exploring the question of “What is Street Art?” during which work by contemporary street artists such as Banksy and Aske P.19, who cite Haring as an influence, and the ramifications of this for the production of art in the 21st Century was analysed.

The first afternoon powerpoint presentation explored the surprisingly overlooked subject of “Haring on Film” and the presence of the artist’s work in some of the most well known movies of the 1980s such as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Crocodile Dundee” (1986), “Wall Street” (1987), “Scrooged” (1988), “Lethal Weapon 2” and “Look Who’s Talking” (1989); as well as his personal involvement in cult low-budget horror comedy “Vamp” (1986), starring Grace Jones. The second presentation “Haring as Activist”, documented the political/social elements of Haring’s work through his seminal involvement in three key agitation movements: Apartheid (Free South Africa); Crack Down (Crack Cocaine) and Act-Up (HIV/AIDS). The second tour of the Keith Haring exhibition which followed on immediately from this underscored for attendees, the devastating impact upon the gay community of the US government’s intransigence over the AIDS epidemic and Haring’s insistence upon using his art, particularly once he himself was diagnosed as HIV positive, as a mouthpiece to support and give a voice to the voiceless. The final powerpoint presentation of the day, “Terminus”, looked at Haring’s legacy and the creation of his final public mural project “Tuttomondo” (1989) at the church of St. Anthony, Pisa in Italy.

Overall, according to the students, this was a “brilliant day” and “much new information was shared that really helped to bring out the themes and the importance” of Keith Haring and his work. Many thanks to all of those who attended and got so passionately involved in the group discussion in particular.

 “Keith Haring” continues at Tate Liverpool until 10 November, 2019.  Continuing Education is proud to have a long history of presenting courses at Tate, and now The University of Liverpool and Tate Liverpool are official partners, working together to bring exciting learning opportunities to the public on a regular basis. 

Dr Lee Kendall will lead two full courses at Continuing Education in the 2019-20 semesters: “Titanic: Romancing Disaster, 1912-2012” beginning Tuesday 8 October and “Liverpool and the Spectacle of the Macabre, 1781-1901” beginning 4 February.