Reviews

The Universe of Keith Haring

It's not about the message in Haring's art that makes it still so vital; it's about the irrepressible energy behind the message, the inherent expression of joy.


The Universe of Keith Haring

Director: Christina Clausen
Length: 90
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Arts Alliance America
US DVD Release Date: 2009-02-10
First date: 2009
Amazon
Trailer

Director Christina Clausen's documentary The Universe of Keith Haring starts out rather slowly, following Haring's life from paper routes in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, to art school to New York night life, through interviews with his parents, sisters and childhood friends. Clausen also interviews friends and contemporaries like Fab 5 Freddy, Junior Vasquez, David LaChapelle, Kenny Scharf, Bruno Schmidt and Samantha McEwen.

Fortunately, the pace picks up once Clausen lets the fabulous video footage of Haring at work and at play take the lead. The video is interspersed with assorted archive audio interviews with Haring, along with interview segments of family and friends, and the film comes alive with Haring's evident enthusiasm for life and all things.

Early video shows Haring painting a room-sized piece on his floor in time to the beat of some of his favorite music. Later footage includes several scenes of him drawing his famous subway signboards, getting arrested for it and explaining to passersby his reasons for expressing himself in this way. Throughout the documentary, we can see the evolution and refinement of Haring's repetitive, symbolic, semiotic style. Black and white or sometimes striking primary colors were used to give the pieces a sense of motion that is almost like animation. Even in the earliest footage, this distinct quality is already apparent.

Haring's artistic style is as distinctive as it is deceptive. One of the points brought up again and again in The Universe of Keith Haring by several of the interviewees is how instantly recognizable his work is. In fact, one person compares Haring's "hand" to that of an iconic musician, in that you only need to "hear a few bars" to know it's him. And that's true. Still, some would attribute the iconic status of Haring's images mainly to their simplicity and to their broad visual appeal. And people of all ages and from all walks of life are attracted to his work. That's true, too.

Obviously, there is an unmistakable quality behind every one of his pieces, but it's not only his particular way with form and movement, it's not just the seeming simplicity of his lines that continues to draw people to his work nearly 20 years after his death. Although much of his work did present political or social commentary, with themes including racial harmony and sexual freedom, as well as his work with Act Up, both before and after he was diagnosed HIV-positive, it's not about the message; it's about the irrepressible energy behind the message, the intention behind the art, the inherent expression of joy. That's what attracts people.

Yoko Ono offers perhaps the most enlightening comment of the entire documentary when she explains that while Andy Warhol liked making meaningless art from a meaningful tradition, Haring made art that may have looked meaningless, but was actually quite meaningful. Haring himself describes his art, specifically his subway works, by saying, "[I got] letters, stories from people of specific times when they came upon a drawing and it filled this gap that was waiting to be filled. It made something…make sense. It made a moment for them which will stay in their memory forever. That's what all art is supposed to do."

Haring created art that is memorable because it was immediate, irreverent and yes, joyful, and he made it accessible to all. The Universe of Keith Haring provides viewers intimate access to the exuberance and vitality of Haring, as well as insights into the lasting impact of the artist and his art.

6

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

The husband and wife duo DEGA center their latest slick synthpop soundscape around the concept of love in all of its stages.

Kalen and Aslyn Nash are an indie pop super-couple if there ever were such a thing. Before becoming as a musical duo themselves, the husband and wife duo put their best feet forward with other projects that saw them acclaim. Kalen previously provided his chops as a singer-songwriter to the Georgia Americana band, Ponderosa. Meanwhile, Aslyn was signed as a solo artist to Capitol while also providing background vocals for Ke$ha. Now, they're blending all of those individual experiences together in their latest project, DEGA.

Keep reading... Show less

On "Restless Mind", Paul Luc establishes himself as an exceptional 21st century bard who knows his way around evoking complex emotions in song.

The folk-rock swing of Paul Luc's upcoming Bad Seed is representative of the whole human condition. Following his previous track release in "Slow Dancing", the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter is sharing another mid-tempo, soulful number. This time, it describes the way too familiar feelings of uncertainty and diversion can, at times, sneak up on all of us.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image