Even if you don’t know the name Keith Haring the chances are you know his work. His Pop Art and graffiti-inspired drawings developed out of 1980s New York City street culture, featuring spontaneous drawings of figures, dogs and other stylized images.
He began his career creating chalk murals on blank advertising spaces in subways stations and his work soon attracted attention. Addressing political and social themes, especially gay rights and the AIDS epidemic, he blazed a trail for other LGBTQ artists and established himself as a serious voice in the art world.
But how much do you know about his life and work? These top 7 facts will help you get to know Keith Haring a little better.
Andy Mouse (1986) by Keith HaringNakamura Keith Haring Collection
1. He grew up in a small rural town
Despite taking the metropolitan New York art world by storm, Haring grew up in Kutztown, a small rural community in Pennsylvania Dutch country. He attended church camp every summer and had parents who supported his love of art.
Untitled (Fertility) (1983) by Keith HaringNakamura Keith Haring Collection
2. He was inspired by cartoons
His work was heavily inspired by the cartoons of his youth, particularly the work of Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. Haring once said: “Since I was little, I had been doing cartoons, creating characters and stories. In my mind, though, there was a separation between cartooning and being an ‘artist’.”
A still from Fantasia (1940) by Walt DisyenItalian American Museum of Los Angeles
3. He was inspired by a discarded piece of paper
One day on his way to work he found a scrap of paper on the floor. On one side were the words ‘God is a dog’ and on the other ‘Jesus is a monkey’. For some reason, this triggered a profound change of attitude in Haring. Later that day he cut his hair short and started buying punk records. He also decided he needed to move to New York to find the drive he was looking for in his work.
4. He brought art to the people
Bored of the elitist nature of the art world, Haring wanted to make art more accessible. Inspired by the graffiti he saw all around him, he started to make chalk drawings on floors and walls of subway stations. His work became performance pieces in themselves, with Haring interacting with commuters who wanted to ask about his work. However, not everyone enjoyed his art. He was arrested for vandalism multiple times by the NYPD.
Documentary Photography by Yoshikuni KawashimaOriginal Source: Nakamura Keith Haring Collection
In 1987, Haring collaborated with local residents and kids in Philadelphia to paint this mural, We the Youth, in what is now known as the Keith Haring Garden. It's the only one of his public collaborations to remain. Click and drag to look around.
5. He opened his own shop to sell directly to art lovers
Following on from his public performance works, he opened his own art shop, called Pop Shop, sharing his work with a much larger audience. He refuted accusations of 'selling out' by asserting that his work was becoming more expensive in galleries and he wanted people to have direct access to it. The shop stayed open for 15 years after his death.
Untitled (1982) by Keith HaringMoMA The Museum of Modern Art
6. The world's largest jigsaw puzzles features Haring’s work
A huge puzzle featuring 32 of Haring’s paintings measures over 5 meters by 2 meters and comprises more than 32,000 pieces. It's the world's largest commercially available jigsaw. Remember, always try and start with the corners, although it might take a while to find them.
Retrospect (1989) by Keith HaringNakamura Keith Haring Collection
7. His AIDS diagnosis fuelled his work
Haring was openly gay and diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. He used his artwork to raise awareness of the disease, with pieces such as Silence=Death. Sadly, he died a couple of years later in 1990. However, before his death he started the Keith Haring Foundation to carry on his work raising awareness about AIDS and funding research.
Igonorance=Fear. Silence=Death by Keith HaringOriginal Source: Nakamura Keith Haring Collection