“Part of the reason that I’m not having trouble facing the reality of death is that it’s not a limitation, in a way. It could have happened any time, and it is going to happen sometime. If you live your life according to that, death is irrelevant.”
The art of Keith Haring is very particular and quite memorable, leaving at the same time a remarkable trace in pop art history. His unique bold lines and colors made him known all over the world through posters and street art graffiti.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1989 / Keith Haring, Untitled, 1984
An American-born artist in 1958 in the state of Pennsylvania, Haring had a short but very colorful life. He is best known for his presence on New York’s art scene in the 80s. His art is very unique and memorable, inspired by street art graffiti style, later evolving into his unique figures with bold lines and colors made to convey feelings of movement and radiance.
Keith Haring, Boxers, 1988 / Keith Haring and LA II, Untitled, 1984 / Keith Haring, Untitled, 1990
His artistic creations started in his early twenties with drawing figures in the New York subway. He was drawing in front of the people passing by and asking him what the drawings meant, using the advertising spaces in the subway where he drew large figures with white chalk. People always admired his drawings however Haring was arrested many times for vandalism in the subway premises and although he was drawing very quickly, the New York police department arrested him. A big part of the cops was in fact his fans and his drawings were so popular, that his chalk would be stolen and sold by his fans.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982 (first major outdoor mural at Houston Street & the Bowery, New York)
The involvement of Haring in the New York art scene in the 80s introduced him to other pop icons such as Madonna and Andy Warhol. Warhol was even depicted by Haring as Mickey Mouse, with big sunglasses and mоuse ears and those paintings were named “Andy Mouse”.
Keith Haring, Andy Mouse (Drowing), 1986 / Keith Haring, Andy Mouse, 1986
Keith Haring x Andy Warhol, Madonna Silk Screen (Zoom)
Haring became friends with Madonna when a roommate of his made their acquaintance and they used to go dancing at some popular at the time New York dance clubs. Being a close friend to Madonna, Haring did some fashion design as well, as he designed a jacket and a skirt for some of the performances of Madonna, which she appreciated very much.
Keith Haring, Painted dress worn by Madonna, MFA Boston
Also in that period, having the habit to draw murals in the subway, Haring drew public works murals around New York City, including his "Crack is Wack" mural at East 128th Street and Harlem River Drive. Such murals Haring painted not only in New York but also in some other cities across Europe, such as Paris, Berlin, Pisa. Such murals were part of Haring's charity activities as he painted them at children’s hospitals, churches, and orphanages.
Keith Haring, Crack is Wack, 1986
The charity activities of Haring started when he was diagnosed with AIDS, in 1989. He started the Keith Haring Foundation that is much about AIDS awareness and prevention. However, the artist loved working with children and create colorful murals, and led many workshops with children in schools and museums all over the world. His foundation still operates and seeks to create awareness and raise money for AIDS research and initiatives. He worked to raise AIDS awareness through his artwork, such as with his painting “Silence=Death”, where he incorporated symbols of homosexuality and AIDS (a pink triangle and devils). Although he had seen many of his friends fall victim to the disease, Haring remained admirably optimistic and his diagnosis inspired his work.
Keith Haring, Silence = Death, 1989
Haring was also known to be a philanthropist and opened a shop in the New York area in Soho and another one in Tokyo later on, to make his art more accessible to the public and not only to the art collectors. Some of his critics accused him of being commercial and willing to promote his art through selling merchandise. However, Haring claimed he was doing the exact opposite. “My work was starting to become more expensive and more popular within the art market,” Haring said. “Those prices meant that only people who could afford big art prices could have access to the work. The Pop Shop makes it accessible.”
The artist passed away at the age of 31 from AIDS complications. His father made a tribute to him in a parade to celebrate his 50th anniversary featuring a 48 foot-tall (14,6 m) balloon named “Figure with Heart” in 2008 in the Macy’sThanksgiving Day Parade. The balloon represented a white figure holding a red heart over its head and was based on an ink drawing that Haring had done. A funny fact at this parade was that the balloon temporarily interrupted the television broadcast of the parade, as he hit the NBC broadcast booth.
Keith Haring, Balloon “Figure with Heart” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2008
At present days, original works of Keith Haring can be seen and purchased at some art fairs, such as Viennacontemporary, or bought at some big auction houses like Sotheby’s.
* Courtesy for all images used to The Keith Haring Foundation.