Keith Haring, like so many others, died from AIDS in 1990. His work as a visual artist throughout the 1980s remains instantly recognisable, and has influenced everything from fine art to classroom doodles.
Haring’s presence in the New York creative scene of the 1980s was irrepressible. The holes of the city in decades previous were filled with the likes of Patti Smith and The Velvet Underground – artists who were brilliant, but intimidating to a younger generation. Keith Haring possessed the rather different outlook that life should be vibrant and celebrated. Haring’s artwork clung to the walls of New York and a unique community sentiment throbbed in spite of the backdrop of death. He was remarkably capable and ardent: according to a former housemate, “He always knew where he was going.” The clubs of which he was a major part, including Club 57 and Paradise Garage, were seen as places to converse or boogie rather than descend into luxurious over-indulgence.
The World Of Keith Haring, a compilation recently put out by the reliable Soul Jazz Records, tells the story of a scene riddled with the worst imaginable tragedy. With the music as our narrator, we are offered an invitation into the world of Keith Haring: one of overcoming adversity via expression through dance music. Counter-culture aims to blur the lines of tradition, expectation, or oppression that bind the individual. The argument is compelling. In the hotbed of creativity that was New York’s 1980s underground, art coalesced with politics, hip-hop, and anything else it could get its hands on. Each track was recorded during a Reagan administration which refused to fully acknowledge the AIDS epidemic, but these are happy sounds and happy voices. Life goes on and music and dance open one up in a powerful way. It becomes easier to understand the special philosophy of the scene when listening to a worthy soundtrack.
Tracks to check out:
Love Money by Funk Masters
Over & Over by Sylvester
Class Action by Weekend (Larry Levan mix)
anything else while I’m here?
Beat Bop by Rammallzee (prod. Jean Michel-Basquiat)