Keith Haring: Street Art Boy
International art sensation, Keith Haring, blazed a trail through the legendary art scene of 1980s New York and revolutionised the worlds of pop culture and fine art. This fascinating and compelling film - told using previously unheard interviews that form the narrative of the documentary - is the definitive story of the artist in his own words.
A new documentary ‘Street Art Boy’ tells the story of Keith Haring, an enormously influential artist and activist who in a few short, golden years revolutionised art and popular culture, before tragically passing away in 1990 at the age of 28. The film is a bold and bright introduction to Haring’s work and the street art scene from which he emerged in the early 80s: the Paradise Garage, subway graffiti, punk and partying. With access to mountains of audio and video archive footage, and an energy perfectly in tune with its subject, director Ben Anthony has opened up his subject to a new audience in a new era, or perhaps, just reminded us that his influence never really went away.
Haring has a devoted following in Japan, a result of not only of his numerous visits and enthusiasm for meeting local people, but also his affinity for Japanese visual culture. As this timeline shows Haring first visited Tokyo in 1983, leaving behind one of his many astonishingly intricate, eye catching murals. By the time he next visited in 1987 he had become a celebrity, and was seeking to open a second Pop Shop – his mould-breaking but not uncontroversial experiment in selling his art to a mass audience commercially in the form of badges, shoes, bowls and t shirts adorned with some of his most famous images: the three eyed smiley face, the crawling baby, the barking dog. His imagery achieved what felt like ubiquity because it was, literally, everywhere.
While Pop Shop Tokyo never got off the ground, Japan was clearly an extremely receptive environment for his ideas. There are a few possible explanations. Perhaps Haring’s bold, illustrative style echoed Japan’s own artistic heritage: calligraphy, the Kanō school, woodblock printing, ukiyo-e and manga. This was far from unique of course – Haring’s genius was to appear familiar and timeless. Art critics have rightly (and sometimes dismissively) drawn comparisons between his work and cave paintings, hieroglyphs, indigenous Australian art, cartoons and graffiti: a form with which he himself closely associated with. Yet Japanese culture is well known for aesthetic harmony and balance, as well as a deep respect and appreciation for how well someone has “trained” themselves in the service of their art. Haring honed his craft and found a purity through his broad, confident black lines. Japanese audiences saw the beauty in this very quickly.
Maybe it was more a matter of timing. Experiencing an unprecedented economic and technological boom, the Japanese (or at least urban Japanese) in the 1980s were developing an insatiable appetite for American popular culture, a phenomenon that continues to this day. Due to the obvious linguistic gap, the appropriation and recycling of American cultural forms centres upon surface or sensual qualities. Meaning and pleasure are derived from what social theorists call semiotics: a shifting interplay of signs, symbols and contexts. Haring’s visual language placed as few barriers as possible in front of his potential audiences. His signs and symbols sang freedom, love and ineffable cool – and the only place that valued cool even more than New York City in the 1980s was Tokyo.
It is fascinating how contemporary he appears today: almost a classic metropolitan hipster with his offbeat clothing, thick glasses, hard partying and globe trotting. He was also gay, a businessman and a prolific pop culture-adjacent content creator. It doesn’t get more 2021 than that. Although perhaps every generation will feel this way. What really comes across in Street Art Boy is just how hard Keith Haring worked, and how much of his time he dedicated to sharing his work with normal people in their own environments. In Japan, as in New York City, Barcelona, Berlin and dozens of other places around the world, Haring painted the walls of schools, vacant lots, empty advertising space and canvasses vast and small. He invariably did this for free, following a deep altruistic instinct to extract art from exclusive galleries and the control of the wealthy. It was a deceptively simple ethos, requiring an extraordinary amount of energy, but for which the rewards for Haring and his audiences were perfectly clear.
Haring himself had an extremely well developed sense of his methods. In a diary entry in 1978 he wrote:
“I can paint spontaneously without worrying if it looks ‘good’ and I can let my movement and my instant reaction/response control the piece, control my energy (if there is any control at all)…A different kind of order that exists only from these conditions, It requires individual interaction and individual response.. . It is loosely natural, real, uninhibited, beyond definition. It is temporary and its permanency is unimportant. Its existence is already established. It can be made permanent by a camera.”
This was a genuinely radical notion at the time. By putting art in public places, working with school children and graffiti artists and taking over derelict spaces Haring effectively inspired the “street art” scene of the late 20th century. British artists like Obey, Faile, KAWS, WK Interact, STATIC and of course Banksy all followed the template laid down by Haring: adventurous, political, graphical and very much in tune with the hip hop and punk attitudes of graffiti writers. While Japan does not necessarily have the graffiti culture of the US, UK and Europe, there has long been a deep appreciation for hybrids of art and pop culture, and for those, such as Keith Haring, who lived their art as a way of life.
Haring possessed an ineffable talent for bringing people together; for seeing themselves and their community in his drawings. This film will lead to the discovery of Haring’s work by a new generation, which is certainly what he would have wanted. It is always great to discover a forgotten legend of popular culture: an individual whose light has dimmed over time but whose significance now, given proper exposure, is shown to be foundational to the art of their time and ours.
Desperate for answers about the theft of her 2 paintings, a Czech artist seeks out and befriends the career criminal who stole them. After inviting her thief to sit for a portrait, the two form an improbable relationship and an inextricable bond that will forever link these lonely souls.
Shinjuku Boys introduces three onnabes who work as hosts at the New Marilyn Club in Tokyo. Onnabes are women who live as men and have girlfriends, although they don't usually identify as lesbians.
Boniface Mwangi is daring and audacious, and recognised as Kenya's most provocative photojournalist. But as a father of three young children, these qualities create tremendous turmoil between him and his wife Njeri. When he wants to run for political office, he is forced to choose: country or family?
Jawline follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.
In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, the Ochoas struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.
The searing documentary Welcome To Chechnya chronicles the current anti-LGBTQ campaign raging in the Russian republic of Chechnya and shadows the LGBTQ activists who risk unimaginable peril to rescue victims from a targeted campaign of torture and brutality.
Hla and Nyo Nyo live in a country torn by conflict. Hla is a Buddhist and the owner of a makeshift medical clinic in western Myanmar, where the Rohingya (a Muslim minority community) are persecuted and denied basic rights. Nyo Nyo is a Muslim and an apprentice midwife who acts as an assistant and translator at the clinic. Her family has lived in the area for generations, yet they are still considered intruders. Encouraged and challenged by Hla, who risks her own safety daily by helping Muslim patients, Nyo Nyo is determined to become a steady health care provider for her community. Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing’s remarkable feature debut was filmed over five turbulent years in a country that has long been exoticized and misunderstood. The filmmaker’s gentle, impartial gaze grants unique access to these courageous women who unite to bring forth life. Filled with love, empathy, and hope, Midwives offers a rare insight into the complex reality of Myanmar and its people.
Divorce Iranian Style is a documentary film directed by Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini. It is set in a small courtroom in central Tehran, and follows a number of women who come before a non-plussed judge and in turn use whatever they can - reason, argument, charm, outrage, pleas for sympathy, patience, and wit - to get what they each need. There are four main characters: Massy, who wants to divorce her inadequate husband; Ziba, an outspoken 16-year-old who proudly stands up to her 38-year-old husband and his family; Jamileh, who brings her husband to court to teach him a lesson; and Maryam, remarried and desperate to regain custody of her two daughters.
An emotional and raw documentary about three young South Korean women who has to make a choice of weather to keep their child or give it up for adoption, while they are staying at a shelter for unwed mothers. The film offers a unique look into South Korean society and into the conditions for vulnerable women and their children - all seen through the eyes of the director who herself was adopted from South Korea.
For years, a homeless community took root in a train tunnel beneath New York City, braving dangerous conditions and perpetual night. Dark Days explores this surprisingly domestic subterranean world, unearthing a way of life unimaginable to those above. Through stories simultaneously heartbreaking, hilarious, intimate, and off the cuff, tunnel dwellers reveal their reasons for taking refuge and their struggle to survive underground. Filmed in striking black and white with a crew comprised of the tunnel’s inhabitants and scored by legendary turntablist DJ Shadow, Dark Days is a soulful and enduring document of life on the fringe.
In the wilderness of the Bucharest Delta, an abandoned water reservoir just outside the bustling metropolis, the Enache family lived in perfect harmony with nature for two decades, sleeping in a hut on the lakeshore, catching fish barehanded, and following the rhythm of the seasons. When this area is transformed into a public national park, they are forced to leave behind their unconventional life and move to the city, where fishing rods are replaced by smartphones and idle afternoons are now spent in classrooms.
London Edinburgh London follows a group of cyclists from around the world on a remarkable feat of endurance. Travelling over 1400km, our unlikely and eccentric heroes are not only tested physically, but face the mental challenge, "can I push myself further, can I go one more day?". This is a documentary about what happens when you push the limits of cycling.
It’s 1997, and the World Wrestling Federation is facing fierce competition from Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. When the legendary Bret “The Hitman” Hart is offered a lucrative opportunity to jump ship to the WCW, WWF mastermind Vince McMahon appeals to his sense of loyalty and lures him back with a 20-year contract. But when McMahon abruptly reneges on the deal, Hart reconnects with the competition, paving the way for one of the most notorious events in the history of professional wrestling: the Montreal Screwjob. Widely hailed as the greatest wrestling documentary of all time, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows is an engrossing look at the life and career of Bret Hart and the Hart dynasty. Granted unprecedented access to the secret world of wrestling, director Paul Jay presents a real-world narrative far more dramatic than any story created for the ring.
The I love NY logo is so ubiquitous in New York today that it feels hard to imagine it actually being designed. Surely it has always been there, offering New Yorkers and tourists the chance to proclaim their love for the city?
A stunning documentary short by New York City-based director Jake Oleson. Shot in the Cape Flats of Cape Town, South Africa over the course of three days, “The Flats” explores what life is like for the residents that live there.
A documentary short about low income citizens in rural Florida who struggle with smoking related loss and addiction. Christy, Eric and Geremy have smoked since their early teens and lost loved ones yet they continue to spend up to 25% of their income on cigarettes. Each have their reasons to quit...but can't.
In this film, enviable images of fur coats and bottles of Dom Pérignon are juxtaposed against snapshots of burnt hash and broken boards. Lüdi comments, “By having acquaintances from both the luxurious and rebellious sides of St Moritz, I was able to create a film that visually translates the dichotomy between the two worlds.”
In parts of the Florida Everglades, there’s a tradition that dates back to the early 20th century in which young men – and now young women – use nothing but sticks and quick reflexes to hunt rabbits at the margins of sugar plantations.
We the Bathers is a visually beautiful and emotive short documentary featuring fourteen people across the globe. Each story and person is unique, but they share one common connection. Water.
Los Angeles-based director and photographer Liza Mandelup takes a look at the new era of social media fuelled fangirls. Mandelup captures human nature in a world growing increasingly dependent on technology to feel connected. Adolescence is hard, but “fangirls” have found solace and companionship in the people they follow on a daily basis.
In a cramped suburban apartment in Mumbai, an eccentric patriarch and his family consider killing and eating their hell-raising pet rooster, so that they can reclaim their normal lives.
The custom of the Rocket Wars, whose roots go back centuries, uses shots of homemade fireworks (rockets) between the two largest parishes of the area, Agios Markos and Panagia Erythiani. In recent years, the number of rockets produced has reached several thousand, and the spectacle they present in the spring sky on the night of the Resurrection is truly spectacular.
Alec Gill, 75, has been taking pictures of England's Hessle Road area in Hull since he first trained his camera lens on the city's St. Andrews fish dock in 1971. He describes himself as "tourist in his own town" and an "unwitting" chronicler of the local fishing industry's decline, which he has recorded in 6,630 images of the area and its people over the decades. The photographer, who was born in Hull's Old Town, had several spells of work in the shipping and forwarding industry in the 1960s but did not like office life and often took to travelling and taking photographs.
Since 1975 Yoshiichi Hara has made more than fifteen hundred photographs of strip-tease artists – and Stripper Zukan is regarded as the starting point of this lifelong project.
By 1990 gentrification and rent rises had begun to destroy much of the exotic ambience, slowed down by the arrival of the gay community and the transformative power of the vibrant “pink pound”.
The cast of characters in Bruce Gilden’s theatre of the street is outrageous. Sometimes tawdry and out of this world, they are mostly mysterious. To Gilden and his fellow New Yorkers, they’re just neighbours. In broad and simple terms, and with great expressive authority, Gilden has captured the uniquely individualistic, self-styled New York personality on the run. In Gilden’s world, no-one is on the margins of centre stage, they are all star players.
Mincéirs are a traditionally nomadic ethnic minority indigenous to Ireland, referred to by the Irish Government and the settled population as Irish Travellers.
One of the most important practitioners of her time, Freedman was a diligent street and documentary photographer who spent her life capturing the complexities of the day, with rare veracity and grace.
The Brooklyn-based photographer spends eight to 12 hours a day snapping photos of people and speed-walking away before they can harass him. Much of his time is spent piercing New Yorkers' illusion of privacy, but he takes pictures wherever he goes.
Until 1993, there stood a structure in Hong Kong like no other. On a small plot of land in Kowloon, a mass of buildings stretched skywards, interconnecting like a jungle canopy to form a single dense block. Reaching 14 storeys, its facade glowed with the fluorescent lights of hundreds of tiny apartments and shops. Packed inside were schools, workplaces, medical clinics, and factories; places of worship, relaxation, and hedonism – and more than 35,000 inhabitants living on top of one another.