In August of 1985 Keith Haring attended Madonna and Sean Penn’s wedding with Andy Warhol in tow. Oddly, Andy Warhol had not been invited to the wedding but instead came as Haring’s date. In a film that chronicles the life of the prolific artist from his childhood with Kermit Oswald to his untimely death, The Universe of Keith Haring uses interviews with friends and family that unravel the intriguing facets of a playful and observant personality. A good example: Friend and artist Roger Nellens describes Warhol and Haring as a couple of gossiping old ladies who talked into the night, a charming image that we can’t help but smirk over.
The thing about Keith Haring is that it would be really difficult to smudge up any story about him. He traveled the world unveiling barking dog sculptures, drawing cartoon characters for young fans, painting murals on the Berlin Wall, and sketching phallic images on subway platforms. He hung out with Madonna in the early days of Paradise Garage and painted the naked body of Grace Jones. Haring’s distinct street style and ability to produce on a massive scale made him an artistic force that propelled the New York art scene in the wake of the Reagan era and pushed onwards through the Eighties to international museums and public spaces. Director Christina Clausen lets the story tell itself, steering clear from the frill, with exception to one bizarre Matrix-like zooming method she uses to focus in on one of her interviewee’s eyes. Interviews from Haring’s friends and family and archived video footage and sound bites bring the film together neatly but refrain from broaching too deeply into Haring's personal life. At first thought, this makes the film feel as though viewers are being short changed, but after ruminating over our comfort with tabloid media and reality television, it appears more likely that Clausen's film is intended as a nod of respect to Haring's passion to create anywhere, anytime, for whomever, right up until his death at the age of 31. The Universe of Keith Haring will be released on DVD this month through Arthouse Films.