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Biography of Keith Haring

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, and was raised in nearby
Kutztown, Pennsylvania. He developed a love for drawing at a very early age, learning
basic cartooning skills from his father and from the popular culture around him, such
as Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.

Upon graduation from high school in 1976, Haring enrolled in the Ivy School of Professional
Art in Pittsburgh, a commercial arts school. He soon realized that he had little interest
in becoming a commercial graphic artist and, after two semesters, dropped out. While
in Pittsburgh, Haring continued to study and work on his own and in 1978 had a solo
exhibition of his work at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center.

Later that same year, Haring moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of
Visual Arts (SVA). In New York, Haring found a thriving alternative art community
that was developing outside the gallery and museum system, in the downtown streets,
the subways and spaces in clubs and former dance halls. Here he became friends with
fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as the musicians, performance
artists and graffiti writers that comprised the burgeoning art community. Haring was
swept up in the energy and spirit of this scene and began to organize and participate
in exhibitions and performances at Club 57 and other alternative venues.

In addition to being impressed by the innovation and energy of his contemporaries,
Haring was also inspired by the work of Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Alechinsky, William
Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Robert Henri’s manifesto The Art Spirit, which asserted
the fundamental independence of the artist. With these influences Haring was able
to push his own youthful impulses toward a singular kind of graphic expression based
on the primacy of the line. Also drawn to the public and participatory nature of Christo’s
work, in particular Running Fence, and by Andy Warhol’s unique fusion of art and life,
Haring was determined to devote his career to creating a truly public art.

As a student at SVA, Haring experimented with performance, video, installation and
collage, while always maintaining a strong commitment to drawing. In 1980, Haring
found a highly effective medium that allowed him to communicate with the wider audience
he desired, when he noticed the unused advertising panels covered with matte black
paper in a subway station. He began to create drawings in white chalk upon these blank
paper panels throughout the subway system. Between 1980 and 1985, Haring produced
hundreds of these public drawings in rapid rhythmic lines, sometimes creating as many
as forty “subway drawings” in one day. This seamless flow of images became familiar
to New York commuters, who often would stop to engage the artist when they encountered
him at work. The subway became, as Haring said, a “laboratory” for working out his
ideas and experimenting with his simple lines.

Keith Haring in Pisa – one of the few murals still remaining bold and

Between 1980 and 1986, Haring achieved international recognition and participated
in numerous group and solo exhibitions. His first solo exhibition in New York, held
at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1982, was immensely popular and received critical
acclaim. During this period, he participated in highly renowned international survey
exhibitions such as Documenta 7 in Kassel Germany, the São Paulo Biennial and the
Whitney Biennial. Haring completed numerous public projects in the first half of the
80’s as well, ranging from an animation for the Spectracolor billboard in Times Square,
designing sets and backdrops for theaters and clubs, to developing watch designs for
Swatch and creating murals worldwide.

In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho selling T-shirts,
toys, posters, buttons and magnets bearing his images. Haring considered the shop
to be an extension of his work and painted the entire interior of the store in an
abstract black on white mural, creating a striking and unique retail environment.
The shop was intended to allow people greater access to his work, which was now readily
available on products at a low cost. The shop received criticism from many in the
art world, however Haring remained committed to his desire to make his artwork available
to as wide an audience as possible, and received strong support for his project from
friends, fans and mentors including Andy Warhol.

Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works, which often
carried social messages. He produced more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and
1989, in dozens of cities around the world, many of which were created for charities,
hospitals, children’s day care centers and orphanages. The now famous Crack is Wack
mural of 1986 has become a landmark along New York’s FDR Drive. Other projects include;
a mural created for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, on which
Haring worked with 900 children; a mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital
in Paris, France in 1987; and a mural painted on the western side of the Berlin Wall
three years before its fall. Haring also held drawing workshops for children in schools
and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, and produced imagery
for many literacy programs and other public service campaigns.

Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation,
its mandate being to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children’s
programs, and to expand the audience for Haring’s work through exhibitions, publications
and the licensing of his images. Haring enlisted his imagery during the last years
of his life to speak about his own illness and generate activism and awareness about

Keith Haring© & Jeremy Scott Limited adition Adicolour

During a brief but intense career that spanned the 1980s, Haring’s work was featured
in over 100 solo and group exhibitions. In 1986 alone, he was the subject of more
than 40 newspaper and magazine articles. He was highly sought after to participate
in special projects and collaborated with artists and performers such as Madonna,
Grace Jones, Bill T. Jones, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Jenny Holzer and Andy
Warhol. By expressing universal concepts of birth, death, love, sex and war, using
a primacy of line and directness of message, Haring was able to attract a wide audience
and assure the accessibility and staying power of his imagery, which has become a
universally recognized visual language of the 20th century.

Keith Haring died of AIDS related complications at the age of 31 on February 16, 1990.
A memorial service was held on May 4, 1990 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
in New York City, with over 1,000 people in attendance.

Since his death, he has been the subject of several international retrospectives.
The work of Keith Haring can be seen today in the exhibitions and collections of major
museums around the world.


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