In the early ’80s, wonderful, squiggly, hieroglyphic-like chalk drawings of faceless hyperkinetic people and barking dogs started appearing in New York’s subways. Their creator, a then-unknown artist named Keith Haring, was arrested for his underground activity. But in less than a decade — before he died of AIDS-related complications last February at age 31 — he had become one of the most widely recognized artists of his generation, a worthy pop successor to Lichtenstein and Warhol.
This half-hour documentary draws a spare but clear picture of a genuinely kind and gentle artist, using interviews with Haring himself and leading New York curators and gallery owners. Haring and his East Village cronies hoped to convey a sense of revolution with their graffiti art. When he became a media darling and subsequently a successful businessman (he peddled his own T-shirts and watches out of his Pop Shop in SoHo and created an ad for Absolut vodka), the elitist New York art world was forced to reckon with him.
On canvases and clothes, in urban playgrounds — even on the Berlin Wall — Haring’s figures screamed out against crack, apartheid, and AIDS. Finished before Haring died, Drawing the Line falls short by not mentioning his illness, since he talked about it openly and confronted AIDS with his work. But there are some nice, telling segments showing Haring’s commitment to educating children. ”I think it stands for peace, love,” says a boy inspired by a sculpture that Haring donated to a children’s hospital. ”Children can do whatever they want if they try hard enough. That’s all.” B+