Photo by Todd Lappin.
Keith Haring’s artwork and design language remained fairly consistent throughout his brief career: simple, representative and bold line drawings rendered with limited palettes. His canvases, on the other hand, ranged from subway walls to jackets to fine china to automobiles and motorcycles. Starting this week, the Petersen Automotive Museum will gather all five of Haring’s vehicular-based artworks for the first time.
One of the most acclaimed postmodern artists, Haring rose to prominence in the Eighties in New York City, alongside Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and as the Keith Haring Foundation’s biography of the artist noted, he took inspiration from Andy Warhol’s “unique fusion of art and life [to] devote his career to creating a truly public art.” He started by creating hundreds of chalk drawings on unused advertising spaces in the subway and quickly moved on to creating murals – some commissioned, some not – in cities around the world.
Starting in 1983, he extended his mural work to automobiles. That year, while completing an artist-in-residency with the Montreaux Jazz Fest, he decorated an olive drab 1971 Land Rover Series III with his signature painted lines featuring animals, people, and flying saucers. Scharf, in a discussion about the Land Rover earlier this year, said that Haring likely just happened upon the Land Rover. “The car probably presented itself to him as a canvas,” he said.
Photos courtesy Keith Haring Foundation / Petersen Automotive Museum.
The next year, as part of another residency with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Haring took marker to the yellow-painted body of a 1962 SCAF/Mortarini – a motorized child-sized version of the Ferrari 330 P2 – in front of race attendees. A white 1962 Buick Special, adorned in blue and red, followed in 1986, as did a red 1987 Honda CBR1000F decorated for Fast Art, a gallery in New Jersey, in 1987. While some sources list his final art car – a red 1990 BMW Z1 – as one of the several official BMW art cars, Haring in fact painted it for Galerie Hans Mayer in Düsseldorf.
While some of the five have appeared in exhibitions in the 26 years since Haring died – the Buick, in particular, has been shown extensively over the last several years – the Land Rover didn’t reappear in public until a collector donated it to the Petersen over the summer. Museum officials have put it on display since then, but they’ve also taken the opportunity to collect the others for an exhibit – “The Unconventional Canvases of Keith Haring” – that includes a number of other non-automotive Haring works. As the Petersen’s website describes the five vehicles:
“The imagery reflects the atmosphere, speed and life Haring witnessed at each of these locations. His familiar icons dress the surface in a visual language that can be read and experienced by viewers in their own time and in their own way.”
The exhibit opens Saturday and continues through June 4. For more information, visit Petersen.org.