Angel Vasquez on Keith Haring’s Pop Shop

In collaboration with Keith Haring’s Universal Language exhibit, Guy Hepner Gallery hosted Angel Vasquez, a former employee of Haring’s, to speak on his experiences working at the Pop Shop. 

The Pop Shop was a store owned by Haring which first opened in New York City in 1986. The Pop Shop sold merchandise, including t-shirts, badges, and magnets. Haring viewed the Pop Shop as an extension of his work, as he wanted to make art a social product that was available to as many people as possible. 

Haring has left an enduring mark on the art world with his unique style and messages of understanding, empathy, and respect. Let’s delve into the insights and reflections of Angel, a former employee of the Pop Shop, to gain a deeper understanding of various facets of his life and work: the creative process, the atmosphere within the Pop Shop, the symbiotic relationship between Haring and New York City, the transformation of Haring’s work from the Pop Shop to galleries, and the lasting legacy of his art.

On Haring’s work ethic, Angel recalls that Haring was always busy refining his art. Haring’s dedication to his craft was evident as he regularly touched up the artwork displayed throughout the Pop Shop, and this tireless commitment to his work became a defining aspect of Haring’s artistic persona.

The Pop Shop, as recalled by Angel, was an immersive experience. Upon entering, the art-covered walls and floors created an environment where art and life seamlessly merged. Haring’s intention was to make his art accessible to the masses, and this inclusive approach was evident as patrons navigated an art-infused space. Angel shared an anecdote during a live talk at the show opening where he shared his feeling about being hesitant to step on a pictorial rug designed by Haring speaks to the unique atmosphere cultivated within the shop—one where art was an integral part of daily life. Notably, celebrities occasionally frequented the Pop Shop, yet Angel emphasizes that the focus was on respect and mindfulness within the space. This aligns with Haring’s ethos that art should be accessible to all, regardless of fame or social status.

Haring’s work was not limited to galleries; he used the city itself as a canvas to convey his messages. Haring often spent his early days as a guerrilla artist, deploying his art in the New York City subway system, emphasising the symbiotic relationship between Haring and New York City, as the city’s vibrancy and energy influenced his art, and, in turn, he contributed to its cultural landscape.

Angel, who possesses a collection of Haring’s work, speaks to the privilege and responsibility of being a caretaker of his art. He emphasizes the importance of preserving these pieces in their original packaging, an act that he has come to appreciate more over time. This care reflects a deep respect for Haring’s legacy and the recognition that these pieces are not just art but also historical artefacts.

Stylistic choices, such as his harsh black lines, were what stuck out most to our guest speaker.  These lines, as Angel describes, serve as a framework that guides viewers’ attention and interactions with the artwork. Beyond the vibrant colours and imagery, these lines convey Haring’s intent and message.

Angel highlights Haring’s courage in the face of societal challenges, particularly as a homosexual artist in the 1980s. Haring’s art served as his means of expressing his true self and spreading messages of kindness, respect, and appreciation for life. Angel hopes that Haring’s legacy will be defined by these values—a testament to the enduring power of art to convey profound messages of humanity.

Keith Haring’s influence on the art world and society at large remains undeniable. Through Angel’s recollections, we gain a deeper appreciation for Haring’s creative process, the unique atmosphere of the Pop Shop, his relationship with New York City, the transition of his art to galleries, and the timeless message of kindness and respect he conveyed through his art. Haring’s legacy continues to inspire artists and audiences worldwide, transcending time and boundaries.