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.