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Keith Haring: 10 Facts You Didn’t Know

Key Facts About Keith Haring

Keith Haring was an instant star of the 1980’s art world. A man on fire, he racked up an astonishing legacy before his untimely death at the hands of HIV. After 31 fast-paced years on earth, he created significant pieces throughout the United States, Germany, France, UK, South America, Japan, Holland, and Spain.

His style is highly recognizable, like a song you can recognize after hearing only a few bars. It consists mostly of simple figures surrounded by rhythmic lines that make them appear to vibrate or move. The colors are bold and catchy. These are the key facts about Keith Haring. Keep reading to find out the most exciting facts about Keith Haring, who dedicated his life to the power of art.

“I’ve gotten letters and heard stories from people where at specific times they came upon a drawing and it filled this gap that was waiting to be filled, it made something make sense, it made it a moment for them that will stay in their memory forever, and that’s what all art is supposed to do.” – Keith Haring

Keith Haring | Fertility Series | Untitled 1 | 1983 | Image of Artists' work.

Untitled #1 (Fertility Series), 1983

Interesting Facts About Keith Haring

1. He was an artist of the people.

From the beginning, one of Haring’s missions was to make art more accessible to the people. When he first moved to New York City, he was floored by street art and often told his friends that some of the pieces he saw on the street belonged in the Museum of Modern Art. He became friends with well-known street art crews and followed in their footsteps with his subway drawings.

“I really don’t remember how the subway drawings started, except that I had noticed one of the empty black panels, and it just seemed to be the perfect place to have a drawing. So I went above-ground, bought a piece of chalk, and just did it.” – Haring, The Universe of Keith Haring

 

two black and white subways chalk drawings

Example Subway Drawings From The Early Years

Even after achieving international fame, he continued to draw sketches for anyone who asked (and there were many). Though many often warned him that the habit would depreciate the value of his other paintings, he was more concerned with spreading the joy and meaning of his art than money.

Over the brief span of his career, the artist completed more than 50 public works, including the anti-drug mural Crack is Wack in a Harlem playground and an illuminated, animated billboard of his “radiant baby” image for New York’s Times Square. He also hosted numerous art workshops for children.

many people enjoy looking at keith haring art

People view a wall of Haring art

2. Haring wanted everyone to be able to afford art.

In 1986, he opened the Pop Shop to sell his art in the form of T-shirts and buttons, so that practically everyone could buy a piece of his work.

“My work was starting to become more expensive and more popular within the art market. 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 Universe of Keith Haring

3. He’s a Guinness Book World Record Holder.

Or, to be a little more specific, the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the world features his paintings, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. In fact, the 32,000-piece puzzle consists of 32 of his art pieces arranged over an area of 17 x 6 feet. It’s called Double Retrospective, and you can check it out here.

the puzzle uses this keith haring retrospective

The Retrospective Featured in the Guinness Book of World Records

4. He started the Keith Haring Foundation.

This wonderful organization continues his legacy of bringing art to everyday people, empowering children, encouraging safe sex, and more.

5. Sexuality was a major theme of his early art.

“One of the things that started becoming interesting was that I was combining what was going at night and what was happening in art school was that subject matter of many the drawings that I was doing, which was still abstract shapes, started becoming completely obsessed with phallic imagery, partly really consciously as a way of asserting my sexuality and forcing people to deal with it.” – The Universe of Keith Haring

During the 1980s, homosexuality was still a hush-hush topic. In fact, Keith Haring never officially came out to his parents. Although everyone understood the situation, they all referred to Keith’s boyfriends as his “bodyguards.” The conservative nature of his family and the nation as a whole created a pressure boiler situation for Keith Haring, who was a highly sexual person. That energy came out in his art, as well as in the bathhouses.

In the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in NYC, you can find the Keith Haring bathroom. His highly provocative black and white paintings cover the walls from floor to ceiling.

 

there are many facts about keith haring's drawings

Drawings cover the walls, floor, and ceiling of the Pop Shop.

6. Keith Haring took Andy Warhol to Madonna’s wedding as his +1.

The question remains…why didn’t Warhol get invited?

7. He collaborated with celebrity friends.

With Warhol, he created this multi-media piece. He also worked with the writer William S. Burroughs to make etchings combined with text. Here’s an example titled, The Valley. Finally, the Grace Jones music video of “I’m Not Perfect” features the art of both Warhol and Haring.

 

8. Haring often worked with and for children.

He worked with 300 public school students to paint a 520-foot long construction barrier in Chicago, and the mayor named it, “Keith Haring Week.” He completed an 88-foot mural for the children of a Parisian hospital. He also worked with 1000 kids to complete a 90-foot mural of the Statue of Liberty in NYC. These are just a few of the massive scale projects and workshops that he led to give young people a chance to create public art.

9. He had a spot in his heart for Paris throughout his life.

At age 10, he told his parents that he wanted to be an artist in France. Later, he was invited to paint an exterior stairwell of the Necker-Enfants Malades hospital. Years later, when the hospital faced demolition, the painting remained. Additionally, Paris is home to Haring’s “Life of Christ” triptych, which was the last work he created before his death. The Haring Foundation donated the work to the Saint-Eustache church. Additionally, there is now a Keith Haring exhibit at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (MAM).

 

key facts about keith haring include his lifelong love of paris

A Showcase of Haring’s Work in Paris

10. There are reports of paranormal occurrences surrounding Haring’s life and death.

According to Yoko Ono, Keith Haring posthumously told her to take his ashes to Paris…

“You know, I have a psychic side, so ghosts and spirits whisper to me. At the hill, they were giving out parts of the bones to people, and I received a toe. I put it in my pocket and thought what am I going to do with it. And suddenly Keith whispered, Keep it, hold it, I’ll tell you what to do. So I said OK. Then I went home and Keith said he would like me to take it to Paris and put in an obelisk. And I did.” – Yoko Ono

We hope you enjoyed learning about these interesting Keith Haring facts!

Keith Haring's Icons A features Radiant Baby from 1990 | Image of Artists' work.

Icons (A) – Radiant Baby, 1990

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