Keith Haring

Keith Allen Haring (May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990) was an American artist whose pop art and graffiti-like work grew out of the New York City street culture of the 1980s.[1]

Keith Haring
Haring photographed at a party at Gonzalez y Gonzalez in 1988
Keith Allen Haring

(1958-05-04)May 4, 1958
DiedFebruary 16, 1990(1990-02-16) (aged 31)
Known for
Notable work
"Crack is Wack"
MovementAIDS awareness
AwardsThe Art Award

Haring's work grew to popularity from his spontaneous drawings in New York City subways—chalk outlines of figures, dogs, and other stylized images-on blank black advertising-space backgrounds.[2] After public recognition he created larger scale works, such as colorful murals, many of them commissioned.[2] His imagery has "become a widely recognized visual language".[3] His later work often addressed political and societal themes—especially homosexuality and AIDS—through his own iconography.[4]

Much of his work includes sexual allusions that turned into social activism. He achieved this by using sexual images to advocate for safe sex and AIDS awareness.[5]

Early life and education

Keith Haring was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1958. He was raised in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, by his mother, Joan Haring, and father, Allen Haring, an engineer and amateur cartoonist. Keith attended Kutztown Area High School and graduated in 1976.[6] His family attended the United Church of God.[7] He had three younger sisters, Kay, Karen and Kristen.[8] He became interested in art at a very young age, spending time with his father producing creative drawings.[9] His early influences included Walt Disney cartoons, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, and the Looney Tunes characters in The Bugs Bunny Show.[9]

In his early teenage years, Haring was involved with the Jesus Movement.[7] Later, he hitchhiked across the country, while selling T-shirts that he made featuring the Grateful Dead and anti-Nixon shirts.[10] He studied commercial art from 1976 to 1978 at Pittsburgh's Ivy School of Professional Art, but eventually lost interest.[11] He was inspired to focus on his own art after reading The Art Spirit (1923) by Robert Henri. This influenced his decision to leave the Ivy School after two semesters.[9]

Haring had a maintenance job at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and was able to explore the art of Jean Dubuffet, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Tobey. He was highly influenced around this time by a 1977 retrospective of Pierre Alechinsky's work and by a lecture that the sculptor Christo gave in 1978. From Alechinsky's work, he felt encouraged to create large images that featured writing and characters. From Christo, Haring was introduced to ways of incorporating the public into his art. His first important one-man exhibition was in Pittsburgh at the Center for the Arts in 1978.[9]

Haring moved to New York in 1978 to study painting at the School of Visual Arts. He also worked as a busboy during this time at the nightclub Danceteria.[12] While attending school he studied semiotics with Bill Beckley and experimented with video and performance art. Haring was also highly influenced in his art, by author William Burroughs.[9]


Early work (up to 1981)

Haring first received public attention with his graffiti art in subways where he created white chalk drawings on a black, unused advertisement backboard in the stations.[13] He considered the subways to be his "laboratory", a place where he could experiment and create his artwork and saw the black advertisement paper as a free space and "the perfect place to draw".[14] Starting in 1980, he organized exhibitions at Club 57,[15] a gallery that hosted performances and exhibitions from emerging artists, which were filmed by the photographer Tseng Kwong Chi. Around this time, "The Radiant Baby", a crawling infant with emitting rays of light, became his most recognized symbol. He used it as his tag to sign his work while a subway artist.[7] His images were primarily composed of solid, bold lines with vibrant colors.[15]

Symbols and images (such as barking dogs, flying saucers, and large hearts) became common in his work and iconography. The writings of Burroughs and Brion Gysin inspired his work with lettering and words. In 1980, he created headlines from word juxtaposition and attached hundreds to lamp-posts around Manhattan. These included phrases like "REAGAN SLAIN BY HERO COP" and "POPE KILLED FOR FREED HOSTAGE"[16] among others. That same year, in one of his earliest public projects, Haring altered a banner advertisement above a subway entrance in Times Square that showed a female embracing a male's legs, blacking-out the first letter so that it essentially read "hardon" instead of "Chardón", a French clothing brand (pictured here). He later used other forms of commercial material to spread his work and messages. This included mass producing buttons and magnets to hand out and working on top of subway ads.[5]

In 1981, he sketched his first chalk drawings on black paper and painted plastic, metal, and found objects. Haring would buy materials from hardware stores to use, such as tarpaulin or muslin, and he would utilize any medium that could provide a proper context for his work and/or could hold the marks. As a result, Haring's works spread quickly and he became exceedingly more recognizable.[17] He used his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his illness and to generate activism and awareness about AIDS.[11]

In December 2007, an area of the American Textile Building in the TriBeCa neighborhood of New York City was discovered to contain a Haring painting from 1979.[18]

International breakthrough (1982) and rise to fame

1982 was an important year for Haring. He was featured in Documenta (Germany) and the São Paulo Biennale (Brazil). In October 1982, he had his first exclusive exhibition in the Tony Shafrazi Gallery with artist LA II.[19] He was in several group exhibitions including Fast at Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York City which included Jean Michel Basquiat.[20]

He created more than 50 public works between 1982 and 1989 in dozens of cities around the world.[11] He often used lines to show energy and movement.[21] One of his early works, "Untitled", in 1982 depicts two figures with a radiant heart-love motif, which critics have interpreted as a boldness in homosexual love and a significant cultural statement.[21]

In the following years, the artist traveled in many countries for exhibitions and public projects in Europe, American and Asia.[22][23]

Throughout the 1980s, Haring made art for a variety of sources, nightclubs and discotheques, such as the Palladium in Manhattan, MTV set decorations, a backdrop for the Philadelphia stage of the iconic 1985 Live Aid concerts for world hunger, walls on the Lower East Side, and props for various dance works. His works also included murals for the CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, the Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., and the Necker Children's Hospital in Paris.[7]

1984, Haring visited Australia and painted murals in Melbourne (such as the 1984 'Detail-Mural at Collingwood College, Victoria') and Sydney, and received a commission from the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to create a mural which temporarily replaced the water curtain at the National Gallery.[24] He also visited and painted in Rio de Janeiro, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Whitney, Minneapolis and Manhattan.[15] He continued to be politically active, designing a Free South Africa poster in 1985 and in the same year, worked on his project, Citykids Speak on Liberty which involved 1000 children. In spring 1986, he had his first solo museum exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where he also painted a mural on the museum's then-storage facility.[25] In 1986, Haring was asked by the Checkpoint Charlie Museum to create a mural on the Berlin Wall. The mural was 300 meters long and depicted red and black interlocking human figures against a yellow background. The colors were a representation of the German flag and symbolized the hope of unity between East and West Germany.[26]

Haring also created public murals in the lobby and ambulatory care department of Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center on Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn.

Haring collaborated with Grace Jones, whom he had met through Andy Warhol. In 1985, Haring and Jones worked together on the two live performances Jones at the Paradise Garage, which Robert Farris Thompson has called an "epicenter for black dance". Each time, Haring covered Jones' body with graffiti. He also collaborated with fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren on their A/W 1983/84 Witches collection, with his artwork covering the clothing which was most famously worn by a pink-wigged Madonna for a performance of her song "Like a Virgin" on the British pop-music programme Top of the Pops and the American TV dance program Solid Gold.[15] Haring also collaborated with David Spada, a jewelry designer, to design the sculptural adornments for Jones.[27]

Pop Shop 1986

In April 1986, Pop Shop was opened in Soho and made Haring's work readily accessible to purchase at reasonable prices, though he was highly criticized for the commercialization of his work.[28] Shirts, posters, and other items showing his work was sold there.[29] The Pop Shop remained open after Haring's death and profits go to the Keith Haring Foundation.[29]

I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art.[30]

Keith Haring, when asked about the commercialism of his work.

Commercialization, therefore allowed Haring's art to be easier and more affordable to own.[30] Throughout his career, Haring made his art widely available through the location of his subway art and art on billboards, as well as through the Pop Shop.[30] His attempts to make his work relatable and accessible to a wide audience can also be seen in his figures not having discernable ages, races, or identities.[31] By the arrival of Pop Shop, his work began reflecting more socio-political themes, such as anti-Apartheid, AIDS awareness, and the crack cocaine epidemic.[15] In 1987, he had his own exhibitions in Helsinki, Antwerp, and elsewhere. He also designed the cover for the benefit album A Very Special Christmas, on which Madonna was included. In 1988, he joined a select group of artists whose work has appeared on the label of Chateau Mouton Rothschild wine.

His "Crack is Wack" mural, created in 1986, is visible from New York's FDR Drive.[11] It was originally considered as vandalism by the New York Police Department and Haring was arrested. But after local media outlets picked up the story, Haring was released on a lesser charge. While in jail, Haring's original work was vandalized. This mural is an example of Haring's use of consciousness raising rather than consumerism, "Crack is Wack" rather than "Coke is it."[32] He later made an updated version of the mural on the same wall.[33] In 1989, he criticized the avoidance of social issues such as AIDS through a piece called "Rebel with Many Causes" that revolves around a theme of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil".[34] A rare video of Haring at work demonstrates his energetic style.[35] In his journal, in 1978, he wrote: "I am becoming much more aware of movement. The importance of movement is intensified when a painting becomes a performance. The performance (the act of painting) becomes as important as the resulting painting."[36] Haring would often work quickly, trying to create as much work as possible—sometimes completing as many as 40 paintings in a day.[36]

Final years

When Haring's friend Jean-Michel Basquiat died of a drug overdose in New York in 1988, he paid homage to him with his work A Pile of Crowns, for Jean-Michel Basquiat.[37]

Haring was openly gay and used his work to advocate for safe sex. However, in 1988, he was diagnosed with AIDS.[10]

From 1982 to 1989, he was featured in more than 100 solo and group exhibitions and produced more than 50 public artworks in dozens of charities, hospitals, day care centers, and orphanages.[38] He used his imagery during the last years of his life to speak about his illness and to generate activism and awareness about AIDS.[11] In 1989, he was invited by the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center to join a show of site-specific artwork for the building at 208 West 13th Street. He chose the second-floor men's room for his mural Once Upon a Time.[39] In June, on the rear wall of the convent of the Church of Sant'Antonio (Italian: Chiesa di Sant'Antonio abate) in Pisa, he painted the last public work of his life, the mural "Tuttomondo" (translation: "All world").[15] He died in 1990 at the age of 31.[40]


In the early eighties Haring had established friendships with fellow emerging artists Futura 2000, Kenny Scharf, Madonna, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.[15] He later became friends with Grace Jones, Yoko Ono, James Rosenquist, Niki de St Phalle, Jean Tinguely and Claude Picasso.[22]

Andy Warhol, whom he became friends within 1983[41], was the theme of several of his pieces, including "Andy Mouse". His friendship with Warhol would prove to be a decisive element in his eventual success.[15] "I met (Warhol) finally through (photographer] Christopher Makos, who brought me to the Factory. At first, Andy was very distant. It was difficult for him to be comfortable with people if he didn’t know them. Then he came to another exhibition at the Fun Gallery (February 1983), which was soon after the show at Shafrazi (October 1982). He was more friendly. We started talking, going out. We traded a lot of works at that time.[41] Andy Warhol mentions in his diaries going to the closing party on November 13, 1982, of the exhibition at Shafrazi.[42]


Haring died on February 16, 1990, of AIDS-related complications.[40] He is among those commemorated in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.[43] As a celebration of his life, Madonna declared that the first New York date of her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour would be a benefit concert for Haring's memory and donated all proceeds from her ticket sales to AIDS charities including AIDS Project Los Angeles and amfAR; the act was documented in her film Madonna: Truth or Dare. Additionally, his work was featured in several of Red Hot Organization's efforts to raise money for AIDS and AIDS awareness, specifically its first two albums, Red Hot + Blue and Red Hot + Dance, the latter of which used Haring's work on its cover. His art remains on display worldwide.[30]


In 2014 Haring was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields."[44][45][46]

In June 2019, Haring was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument (SNM) in New York City's Stonewall Inn.[47][48] The SNM is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history,[49] and the wall's unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.[50]

The Keith Haring Foundation

In 1989, Haring established the Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's programs. The foundation's stated goal is to keep his wishes and expand his legacy by providing grants and funding to non-profit organizations that educate disadvantaged youths and inform the public about HIV and AIDS. It also shares his work and contains information about his life.[51] The foundation also supports arts and educational institutions by funding exhibitions, educational programs, and publications.[51]


Haring's work demonstrates political and personal influences. References to his sexual orientation are apparent throughout his work, and his journals confirm its impact on his work.[52] There are symbolic allusions to the AIDS epidemic in some of his later pieces, such as Untitled (cat. no. 27), Silence=Death and his sketch Weeping Woman. In some of his works—including cat. no. 27—the symbolism is subtle, but he also produced some blatantly activist works. Silence=Death, which mirrors the ACT UP poster and uses its motto, is almost universally agreed upon as a work of HIV/AIDS activism.[53]

Haring's use of commercial brands and flat, bold colors demonstrate the influence of Pop Art on his work.[54]

Haring was influenced by fellow artists, including Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frank Stella, and Roy Lichtenstein.[54]

In some of his art he drew connections between the end of the world and the AIDS virus. In a piece that he made with William Burroughs, he depicts the virus as demon-like creatures, the number 666, and a mushroom cloud.[7]

Haring's proximity to the nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island had a large impact on him. His fear of nuclear disaster started to appear in his art. An example of this is a black and white striped flag that he said symbolized the danger of a nuclear apocalypse.[7]

Haring was deeply influenced by the Jesus Movement as a youth, and it continued to play a role in his art for his entire career. The movement was an extremely evangelical, loosely organized, diverse group of Christians. They were known for their anti-materialism and anti-establishment beliefs, focus on the Last Judgement, and their compassionate treatment of the poor. As a young teenager, Haring became very involved in the movement. Religious symbols started to be incorporated into his drawings around that age as well as Jesus Movement sentiments. This includes anti-church establishment views that can be seen in some of his later work.[7] Though his time as a "Jesus Person" did not last beyond his teenage years, religious images, symbols, and references continued to appear in his art. In an interview near the end of his life he commented, "[All] that stuff stuck in my head and even now there are lots of religious images in my work. Some people even think my work is by a religious fanatic or maniac."[7]

When he was a subway artist, Haring used a tag to sign his work. His tag (the Radiant Child) depicts a baby with lines radiating out of it, alluding to the Christ child. He continued to make images depicting the Christ child, including Nativity scenes in his characteristic style during his time as a subway artist.[7] His last pieces were two religious triptychs; both went to Episcopal cathedrals. In them he illustrates the Last Judgement, though who is being saved in the pieces is ambiguous.[7]


Haring contributed to the New York New Wave display in 1981 and in 1982, had his first exclusive exhibition in the Tony Shafrazi Gallery. That same year, he took part in Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany, as well as Public Art Fund's "Messages to the Public" in which he created work for a Spectacolor Board in Times Square.[7] He contributed work to the Whitney Biennial in 1983, as well as in the São Paulo Biennial. In 1985, the CAPC in Bordeaux opened an exhibition of his works, and he took part in the Paris Biennial.[5]

During his lifetime, Haring had over 50 one person shows, and, since his death, has been featured in over 150 exhibitions around the world.[55]

Haring has been the subject of several international retrospectives. His art was the subject of a 1997 retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York, curated by Elisabeth Sussman. In 1996, a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia was the first major exhibition of his work in Australia. In 2008 there was a retrospective exhibition at the MAC in Lyon, France. In February 2010, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Haring's death, Tony Shafrazi Gallery showed an exhibition containing dozens of works from every stage of Haring's career.[56] In March 2012, a retrospective exhibit of his work, Keith Haring: 1978–1982, opened at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.[57] In April 2013, Keith Haring: The Political Line opened at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Le Cent Quatre In November 2014, then at the De Young Museum in San Francisco.[58] His work was exhibited in 2019 at Gladstone Gallery in Belgium.[59]

The first major UK exhibition of Haring’s work, featuring more than 85 artworks, is at Tate Liverpool from June 14 – November 10, 2019.


Haring's work is in major private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Morgan Library and Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Bass Museum in Miami; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in Greenwich, Connecticut; the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; the Ludwig Museum in Cologne; and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.[60] He also created a wide variety of public works, including the infirmary at Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York,[61] and the second floor men's room in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan, which was later transformed into an office and is known as the Keith Haring Room.[62][63] In January 2019 an exhibit called "Keith Haring's New York" opened at New York Law School in the main building of its Tribeca campus.[64]

The Nakamura Keith Haring collection, established in 2007 in Hokuto, Yamanashi, Japan, is an art museum exhibiting exclusively the artworks of Haring.[65]

Art market

Haring created the Pop Shop in 1986 SoHo district of Manhattan, selling T-shirts, toys, posters, and other objects that show his works—allowing his works to be accessible to a larger number of people.

Haring was represented until his death by art dealer Tony Shafrazi.[66] Since his death in 1990, his estate has been administered by the Keith Haring Foundation and the Pop Shop. The foundation has a two-fold mission of supporting educational opportunities for underprivileged children and financing AIDS research and patient care.[67] The foundation is represented by Gladstone Gallery.[68]

Authentication issues

There is no catalogue raisonné for Haring; however, there is copious information about him available on the estate's website and elsewhere, enabling prospective buyers or sellers to research exhibition history.[69] In 2012, the Keith Haring Foundation disbanded its authentication board; that same year, it donated $1 million to support exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art[66] and $1 million to Planned Parenthood of New York City's Project Street Beat. A 2014 lawsuit, filed by a group of nine art collectors at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, argued that the foundation's actions have "limited the number of Haring works in the public domain, thereby increasing the value of the Haring works that the foundation and its members own or sell."[68]

Haring is the subject of a composition, Haring at the Exhibition, written and performed by Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero in collaboration with DJ Nicola Guiducci. The work combines excerpts from popular chart music of the 1980s with samples of classical music compositions by Lorenzo Ferrero and synthesized sounds. It was featured at "The Keith Haring Show",[70] an exhibition which took place in 2005 at the Triennale di Milano.

In 2006, he was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of LGBT History Month.[71]

In 2008, filmmaker Christina Clausen released the documentary The Universe of Keith Haring. In the film, his legacy is "resurrected through colorful archival footage and remembered by friends and admirers such as artists Kenny Scharf and Yoko Ono, gallery owners Jeffrey Deitch and Tony Shafrazi, and the choreographer Bill T. Jones".[72]

Madonna, who was friends with Haring during the 1980s, used his art as animated backdrops for her 2008/2009 Sticky and Sweet Tour. The animation is standard Haring, featuring his trademark blocky figures dancing in beat to an updated remix of "Into the Groove".[73]

Keith Haring: Double Retrospect is a monster sized jigsaw puzzle by Ravensburger measuring in at 17 by 6 feet (5.2 by 1.8 m) with 32,256 pieces, breaking Guinness Book of World Records for the largest puzzle ever made. The puzzle uses 32 pieces of his work and weighs 42 pounds (19 kg).[74]

On May 4, 2012, on what would have been Haring's 54th birthday, Google honored him in a Google Doodle.[75]

Haring created numerous public artworks with social messages, including the iconic image of a mother and child chosen to appear on the first A Very Special Christmas album benefitting Special Olympics in 1987. Through the decades, this image has graced subsequent albums in the collection, which has become the most successful benefit series in music history[76]. The iconic image for the A Very Special Christmas compilation album consists of a typical Haring figure holding a baby. Its "Jesus iconography" is considered unusual in modern rock holiday albums.[77]

Haring had a balloon in tribute to him at the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.[78]

Tim Finn wrote the song "Hit The Ground Running", on his album Before & After, in memory of Haring.[79]

In 2017, his sister Kay Haring wrote a children's book, Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, which ranked among the top ten sellers every week for over a year in the Amazon category of Children's Art History.[80]

See also


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  2. Holmes, Julia (October 1, 2002). 100 New Yorkers: A Guide To Illustrious Lives & Locations. Little Bookroom. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-1-892145-31-4. Retrieved September 7, 2014.
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  6. "Arts / Notable Alumni". http. Retrieved October 24, 2019.
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Further reading

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