Keith Haring Street Art Boy Review – A Celebration of Life with the Pop Artist of The People

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Keith Haring Street Art Boy, showing virtually through NewFest 2020, presents pop artist Keith Haring, the animated image maker who once used the New York City street scene as the backdrop for as his own art studio.

Directed by Ben Anthony, Keith Haring Street Art Boy features interviews with Keith Haring, Fab 5 Freddy, Gil Vasquez, Kenny Scharf, Bill T. Jones, Joan and Allen Haring, John Gruen, Julia Gruen, Kermit Oswald, Samantha McEwan, Drew B. Straub, Lee Quinones, Bruno Schmidt, Tony Shafrazi, Dr. Alan Friedman, and Kristen Haring.

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Part of the PBS American Masters series, and made available nationwide through NewFest, New York's LGBTQ Film Festival, Keith Haring Street Art Boy documentary begins in what was once the most famous studio showing of Haring's street art's in the world, the Manhattan Subway system.

Introducing the documentary sections through advertising sign placement, visually we see a slow-moving camera pan of Manhattan's 23rd street subway, with the main points presented in this section. We also learn about Keith, from a series of friends, yet to be introduced, as they recall these memorable "wow" moments of the person, the artist and the man who was Keith Haring.

The documentary moves chronologically with the beginning and creatively formative years in his small hometown of Kutztown, Pennsylvania to Manhattan, the School of Visual Arts and then the big, wide world of Manhattan and beyond.

The documentary takes viewers back to 1980 New York City, on the brink and colorful, with big bloated graffiti everywhere, tags thrown up on subway cars, inside the cars, on walls throughout the city.

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In what would became Haring's signature style, and in genius, pre-Instagram pre-social media, marketing, he was working the subways, drawing his famous signature images, the baby, the dog and the animated dancing man, sometimes upside down, on blank advertising sections in Manhattan's subways.

At the age of twenty he had his first gallery show and it catapulted him to instant global celebrity status. He was among the one name generation, Andy, Madonna, Brooke, Grace, Michael and Keith from Kutztown, PA. It appeared surreal.

Keith, we see, maintained this low-key all-American style, his former personal assistant, name is also in the documentary and she describes the global rock star treatment Haring received all around the world. His bespectacled shy guy good looks and sense of humor, not taking himself so seriously and genuinely wanting art to be accessible for everyone, drew people to him.

The documentary takes viewers through his early years, his parents, Joan, and Allen, show his early writings and drawings from third grade and explain how he was born to draw.

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Haring provided enough interviews in his lifetime to supply voice over as some of the early home movies show him playing Little League and other normal childhood sports. He had a paper route and understood the climate of the nation as he read the paper before he delivered it.

By twenty he went from born again Christian to diving off the deep end into the drug culture. Beyond smoking pot, Haring freely confused to trying most drugs that were currently in vogue. After the explosion of Manhattan, living with likeminded people, he explains he had an awakening.

As Haring provides much of the voice over and commentary, to hear him tell his story, his sexual orientation was hidden to even himself until he moved to Manhattan and found others. His artistic expression may have kept him from exploring his identity while in his hometown either way as Keith explains it, it was during his time at the School of Visual Arts that he knew he was gay.

Hedonism, Pop Culture, the Lower East side, party over here, party everywhere and Haring and his friends were essentially living their dream, sharing apartments, making money off their craft, and just becoming. This is the introduction to his nightlife and Paradise Garage, at the time a gay nightclub that as we are told, never sold alcohol and everyone was high.

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The documentary moves back to the subway tracks and we see the placards explaining a "mysterious gay cancer" which begins the section on AIDS in New York City in the 1980s. A sudden burst of creative life occurred, as if he knew even before he was diagnosed with AIDS that it would eventually show up at his door.

The promotion, either known or unknown, became a reality and AIDS did show up at his door. Dr. Alan Friedman, who had been treating many of NYC's gay men at the time spoke on the documentary about Haring's frame of mind, his matter of fact approach and that he had no illusions as to the outcome.

For Haring, as the doc goes, he took on even more, he partied even harder, he lived life each day to the fullest of what gave him joy and satisfaction and, he painted at breakneck speed, a phenomenal amount of artwork produced during his last years.

With ten solid years of creating Haring has nearly 10,000 pieces of work in circulation. Since his death, which is added at the end, Keith has had more than 70 solo museum shows, with his work in over 60 museum collections worldwide.

February 16, 1990 twelve years after he arrived in Manhattan Keith Haring died of AIDS complication.

Keith Haring Street Art Boy is screening virtually through NewFest, The New York LGBTQ Film Festival. See this.

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