Keith Haring × UT

Keith Haring and the Art of the T-Shirt

Before UT got its start back in 2006,
UNIQLO was already creating items
that incorporated artwork by Keith Haring.
What can the t-shirt tell us about his thoughts on art?

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© Keith Haring Foundation. Licensed by Artester, New York

Party of Life
The graphics for this season’s UT T-shirt collection come from invitations drawn by Keith Haring for parties and events held in New York City in the 1980s, when nightclubs like the Paradise Garage were the stomping grounds of key figures in the art scene like Madonna and Andy Warhol. The parties at these nightclubs remain legendary to this day. The piece pictured above is from one of the many events organized by Keith and his artist friends at Club 57.

Keith Haring × UNIQLO Archives

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Art is for Everyone

Keith Haring’s art was widely influenced by the graffiti culture of New York in the 1970s. Upon entering New York’s esteemed School of Visual Arts in 1978, it wasn’t the academic contemporary art scene that captured Haring’s attention, but the colorful graffiti found on the street corners and in the subways, the creations of young crews of early writers. Keith made simple line drawings with chalk using the advertisement panels in the subway stations as his canvas. Babies, adults, flying saucers, hearts, TVs, angels...Haring’s subway drawings determined his style and catapulted him to fame.

The driving force behind this art was visibility: if his work was in the subways, everyone would see it. The subway is a public institution, utilized by all people, regardless of race, class, age, gender, or occupation, and Haring saw it as an irresistible platform for communication. Haring began to create murals around the world while organizing workshops and public art projects. In 1986, he opened the groundbreaking Pop Shop in SoHo, where he sold various products of his own design. Two years later, a second location opened in Aoyama, Tokyo. With drawings on the ceiling, walls and floor, the shop boasted a plethora of items, including pins, dolls, bags, mugs, and even slippers. The perennial favorites, however, were the T-shirts featuring his artwork. Haring saw the T-shirt as a “wearable print” and took great stock in the medium’s mobility. When people wore these shirts, they spread the messages behind his work organically.

This led many art critics to label Haring a “commercial artist.” However, Haring’s stated intention was to break down the barriers between fine art and commercial art, and to make his many works accessible to the greatest number of people possible. With this in mind, Haring designed all of the products at the Pop Shop to appeal to people of all ages.

In the hopes of carrying on the spirit of Keith Haring’s work, which broke down barriers and connected people all over the world, for many years UNIQLO has been producing clothing bearing his designs. This year marks twenty nine years since Haring passed away. He liked to tell people that “Art is for Everyone.” That message lives on in the clothing he inspired.

Keith Haring
Artist. Born in 1958 in Pennsylvania, USA. Based in New York City, Haring created fun, approachable artwork that earned him international renown. He died in 1990.

Photography by Getty Images(Portrait),Yoshio Kato(Archives),
Text by Kosuke Ide

Living in the World that Keith Created by Yu Nagaba

Illustrator Yu Nagaba Offers
a Eulogy for Keith

© Keith Haring Foundation. Licensed by Artester, New York

I remember making line drawings like Keith Haring when I was in elementary school. I wasn’t aware that I was copying his style at the time, but in the 1980s, art inspired by Keith Haring was everywhere you looked, so I guess my sketches were just copies of a copy. That’s how much his work has permeated the global culture. His pop sensibility was so appealing that kids like me couldn’t help but try it out themselves.

I didn’t become conscious of his work until I started studying art history in art school. My professor was an art critic, and had several photobooks of Haring’s artwork in his office. At the time, I was more attracted to artistic mastery than mainstream art like Haring’s, so at first I wasn’t sure what I thought of him. When I asked my professor for the scoop, he called Haring a “master of pop.” That made things click for me.

At this point, twenty years later, I feel like I can finally grasp the broad scope of his influence on people everywhere and the enormity of his legacy. His simplicity is what makes him so immediately relatable. Perusing his work, I find each piece incredibly balanced. Even his larger drawings, which forced him to work up close, maintain an overall integrity. I guess he honed his styled to the point that it was muscle memory. Last year, I popped into the special exhibition at Omotesando Hills celebrating his sixtieth birthday. I really liked his illustration of DJ Larry Levan (pictured above). Since I’m a music fan, I’m fascinated by the 1980s New York City club scene, a welcoming environment for the LGBT community and black community and a home for a variety of influential artists.

As someone who makes clothing featuring his own illustrations, I have a lot of respect for Keith Haring. He was the first artist to produce this kind of merchandise. In that sense, I’m living in the world that he created. While some people are more aware of it than others, Keith Haring remains immensely influential and is a giant presence in the world of art.

Yu Nagaba

Illustrator, Artist. Born in 1976 in Tokyo. His work spans a variety of media, including ads and magazines. Collaborating with UT, he produced a loungewear collection featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts for 2019 Fall & Winter.

Photography by Takeshi Abe, Reporting by Kosuke Ide

Keith Haring × UT
2019 Fall & Winter Collection

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Photography by Shunya Arai, Styling by Shinichi Sakagami,
Hair & Makeup by Yoshikazu Miyamoto, Editing by Kyosuke Nitta

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