Keith Haring’s impact on the art world and society as a whole is undeniable. He exploded onto the New York art scene in the 1980s and quickly became known and loved throughout the world for his unique style, powerful messages, and commitment to public works.
We missed Keith Haring’s 60th birthday on the 4th of May, but we figured it was better late than never to celebrate his career and legacy. Here’s why Keith Haring is beloved by all.
Keith’s iconic style
Keith achieved a great deal in his short career. His cartoonish figures often appeared simplistic but were imbibed with deep political and social meaning, often relating to drugs, sexuality, race, desire, and AIDS. The messages were designed to be easily comprehensible, so they too were often simplistic: consider “Crack is Wack” and “Silence=Death” for example.
Haring’s nonchalant attitude towards being arrested
There are countless anecdotes circulating the internet about Keith being arrested for graffitiing the New York subways, only for the hapless officer who brought him in to realise that most of the force was a fan of his work.
Photo: Reproduction of a mural by Keith Haring in el Macba, Barcelona
Keith Haring’s urge to make art accessible
Keith was often criticised throughout his career and, arguably, he ruffled the most feathers by opening his Pop Shop in 1986. The shop was designed to make his artwork accessible for all and reflected his magnificent “Art is for Everybody” approach.
His incredible work ethic
Whilst Keith’s career was short, he certainly made the most of it. In addition to the 50+ public works that he created, he also featured in more than 100 exhibitions and a heap of newspaper articles in the 1980’s. He was highly sought after as a collaborator and he made his mark on Hollywood, the art world, and the general public alike.
The Keith Haring Foundation
Following his AIDS diagnosis, Keith started the Keith Haring Foundation to ensure that his legacy would benefit others well into the future. Since 1989, the Foundation has provided generous grants to children’s charities, AIDS research, and AIDS education.
Friend of celebrities
Living and working in the East Village in New York, Keith Haring had a large social circle, which included many artists and performers who were part of the same underground art scene. This included people such as Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and he frequently worked with them. Haring’s collaborations expanded to involve Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Haring formed a close friendship with Madonna and, when he was invited to her wedding, he took Andy Warhol as his plus one.
Keith’s love for children
Keith often ran workshops for children in museums and schools. On top of this, he created a number of public works for hospitals, charities, children’s day care centers, and orphanages and often made time to produce artwork for literacy programs. He also often collaborated with children during the creation of his works. More than 900 children contributed to his mural which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.
We the Youth was a pro bono collaboration between Haring and a group of high school students. The work, which has marked its 30th anniversary recently, was always meant to be temporary. The neighborhood selected was South Philadelphia’s Point Breeze, where We the Youth hoped to shine the spotlight of Haring’s commercial success on the urban blight of a low-income area. The project organizers expected the mural to be a placeholder until redevelopment actualized the area’s potential—not for it to be around for decades.
Photo: Keith Haring’s mural “We The Youth” at 22nd and Ellsworth Streets in Philadelphia. Used by permission. Keith Haring artwork © Keith Haring Foundation
His ongoing impact on the art world
The Keith Haring Foundation has continued to exhibit his works and his popularity has not faded since his death in 1990. You can check out his current and upcoming exhibitions, as well as his impressive resume, on The Keith Haring Foundation website.