Street Art as Fashion

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As I clicked through the internet in need of some retail therapy, I was greeted on Forever21’s website with a huge banner announcing its new Artist Series: “an iconic capsule collection uniting fashion and street art.” It features the work of American artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. These two artists expressed different styles and ideas, but both blended the lines between fine art, vandalism, and social activism.

Like most 90s kids, my first encounter with Keith Haring’s art was on Sesame Street through animations done by Bill Davis. Haring’s style had vivid colors, thick lines, and active figures among dizzying landscapes. As a kid I thought about how chaotically fun his art was, never realizing that the full extent of his collection covered some very powerful topics. War, sexuality, and death were among those themes since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s affected him personally. Before his death, he established the Keith Haring Foundation to circulate his artwork, preserve his legacy, and support education programs, research, and care related to AIDS/HIV. In particular, his organization helps underprivileged children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, in truth, was unfamiliar to me until I took a class called Issues in Contemporary Art. I saw some of Basquiat’s art in-person at one of the Chelsea galleries during a day trip to NYC about a year ago. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Basquiat was a prominent Neo-Expressionist and Primitivism artist whose work focused on dichotomies like wealth versus poverty throughout NYC. Similar to Haring, he created art to comment on social issues that affected him like racism and class warfare. He created politically-charged graffiti, spontaneous doodles, and purposely grotesque paintings. “Believe it or not, I can actually draw,” he would remind people.

While I don’t see myself buying from this collection at Forever21, I can at least appreciate the art it was inspired by. Hopefully you can too!

Photos from Forever21.

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