Inspired by the vibrancy of Pop art, the political undertones of street art and the ever-changing landscape of New York City, Keith Haring was an icon of the 1980s art scene. His simplified depictions of people, hearts, babies and dogs defined his artistic legacy. In spite of the minimalist nature of his drawings, he was able to convey an incredible profundity, depth and nuance in his works. Artupia, therefore, brings you five things you didn’t know about the artist.
1. His artworks got him arrested
At the beginning of his whirlwind career, Keith Haring would use chalk to draw on the walls of the New York subway. Haring’s drawings became so popular they turned into live paintings, and crowds gathered to watch the artist at work. Despite their popularity, the NYPD arrested him several times; however, upon arriving at the station he was usually released due to the officers being big fans of his work…
Keith Haring with his subway drawings
2. His AIDS diagnosis and homosexuality inspired his work
His openly-gay status was still relatively taboo in the 80s, yet this didn’t stop him integrating symbols and celebrations of homosexuality into his works. In 1988, Haring was tragically diagnosed with AIDS, and used his art to raise awareness of the disease. Pink triangles, elementary lines and vibrant colour schemes defined his posters, after he was inspired by (and later joined) a group of activists called ‘Act Up’. The group coined the phrase ‘Silence = Death’ which featured on Haring’s posters, and utilised the recurring motif of a pink triangle in their campaigns. The pink triangle was integral to the movement as it was transformed from the original Nazi indicator of homosexuality, into a badge of pride.
Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear Poster, 1989
3. Despite his fame, he wanted his art to be accessible by everyone
A quality we value heavily here at Artupia is the accessibility of art for the many and not the few. In 1986, Haring opened a shop in Soho to sell t-shirts, posters and magnets featuring his iconic pieces. The ‘Pop Shop’ envisaged making his art accessible to those who couldn’t afford the increasingly high prices of his other works. In a statement, Haring described the shop as a “philosophy” to “attract the same wide range of people [as my subway drawings], and I wanted it to be a place where, yes, not only collectors could come, but also kids from the Bronx.”
Keith Haring, NYC Pride Print
4. He potentially inspired the Kardashians
Similarly to the controversial family, Keith Haring’s parents named all four of their children with the first initial ‘K’. Haring had three sisters, Kay, Karen and Kristen, and arguably popularised the plosive letter.
Keith Haring, Icons (A) – Radiant Baby, 1990
5. He was a philanthropist and an optimist
Throughout his short life, Haring was involved in numerous charities and causes that focussed on the wellbeing of children. Following his diagnosis, Haring also founded the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989. The Foundation sought and still seeks to create awareness and raise money for AIDS research and initiatives. Although he had seen many of his friends fall victim to the disease, Haring remained admirably optimistic, describing his doctrine as, “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.”
Emiliano Cavalli, Keith Haring Quarantine
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