(Created by Erin Monroe and Realista Rodriguez, History 135, November 1999)
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Recommended books
Quotes about Keith
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Keith Haring
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How did political activism, particularly with AIDS and children's advocacy, influence the art of Keith Haring?
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Keith Haring, much like his artistic idol Andy Warhol, used bright colors, bold lines and simple subject matters. He used his much-adored artwork to speak his mind about racism, gay rights and other political subjects. Haring has left an impact on the pop art culture world, and his messages are still clear in his artwork.

Keith Haring was born on May 4, 1958 to Joan and Allen Haring, residents of Reading, Pennsylvania. His introduction to art came from watching his father draw cartoons. During Haring's wayward adolescence, art became a primary interest in his life. His parents suggested that he to go to a commercial art school to give his future work more credentials. After graduating from Kutztown High School, Haring moved to Pittsburgh to attend the Ivy School. There, the classes focused on illustration and graphic design, something that didn’t quench his artistic yearning. He felt that his art could not live to its possibilities with these restrictions. He then moved to New York, Mecca to the art world, to attend the School of Visual Arts.

Once in New York, Haring took particular curiosity in street graffiti, and he used this form of art to portray his own messages and feelings. Subway stations became his studio, using the black ad boards as his canvas. He made it a point to keep the chalk drawing simple and fast so people riding on the subway could catch a glimpse of it and understand it. His infamous radiant baby was followed by drawings of dogs barking, dancing figures and flying saucers with lightning bolts. His chalk drawings soon progressed into multipurpose sculpture placed in various public parks. The reactions and questions Haring got from observers kept his determination going.

Haring's political drawings were most admired due to the ease of understanding the story or message through his simple, bold and bright figures. He encouraged drug awareness through his ‘Crack is Wack’ murals, promoted freeing South Africa with the over 20,000 posters he designed and gave out and spoke about the dangers of nuclear warfare in his drawings. Even though Haring's works were in high demand, he did not use his political activism to elevate his earnings. Haring enjoyed his political influence because it was also a way to showcase that a successful artist can care about political decisions.

With New York as his home, Haring joined forces with the community by holding projects for inner city kids. His love of children became an inspiration for his artwork. Since the beginning of his career, Haring had been involved with numerous charitable causes profiting needy kids. He painted murals in children’ hospitals and daycare centers and periodically held children’s drawing workshops. He also painted the carousel for a traveling amusement park. His tenderness for kids was acknowledged worldwide when Haring was asked to design the cover and lithograph of the United Nations stamp commemorating 1985 as the International Youth Year. Diversity was also prominent in his artwork. Haring was loved all over the world so he thought it would only be right to share his work throughout all cultures and people. Tokyo, Australia, Germany, Brazil, India and Holland were only a few of the fortunate countries to have a piece of Haring’s legacy on one of their city walls. He also studied Latin and African cultures to bring out authentic features in his work. His works exposed his undying allegiance for anti-racism. In spring of 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. His art became a tool to generate action and convey the dangers and effects of the AIDS virus. Haring participated in events such as Art Against Aids and was asked again by the United Nations to design a cover and Lithograph for the commemoration of March 16, 1990 as Stop of page AIDS Worldwide Year His art also spoke about Haring’s personal feelings and stance on the disease.

By April of 1986, Haring opened his first PopShop in New York; the second came two years later in Tokyo. Critics lashed this aspect of his art, claiming it was too mercantile, but these stores were actually part of Haring's purpose, to deliver his messages to the public. The opening of the Tokyo store was not a way to make money but a way for Haring, a successful and admired American artist, to connect with his non-American admirers. He learned much about Japanese culture that helped him mold his work.

In 1989, the Keith Haring Foundation was established. The mandate of the Foundation was to provide funding and imagery for AIDS organizations as well as children’s organizations. In 1990, Haring died due to complications with AIDS. The pop-culture and his admirers from around the world felt a personal loss because of the connection they felt with Haring through his art. Even though the master behind the creations has gone, his messages are still living in the subways of New York.

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1958- Keith Haring was born.

1976- Keith began classes at the University of Pittsburgh.

1977- Keith had his first exhibit at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center, at age nineteen.

1978- Keith began his studies at the School of Visual Arts in New York on a scholarship.


subway.gif copyright Keith Haring Foundation (11469 bytes) 1980- Inspired by graffiti art, Keith began making chalk drawings on blank advertising panels in New York subway stations.

1981- Keith's art gained popularity and had four exhibitions of his work in New York City, and was part of eight group exhibitions in New York, London, and Belgium.

1982- Printed and distributed 20,000 free posters for June 12 anti-nuclear rally in New York City.

1983- Painted murals on buildings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Tokyo, Japan; and New York City.

1984- Created logo for the "Anti-Litterbug Campaign" for New York City Department of Sanitation.

1984- Painted three murals in Australia, one in Kutztown, Pennsylvania; New York City; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Ilheus, Brazil; and Dobbs Ferry, New York.

1984- Created First Day Cover and limited edition lithograph to accompany United Nations' stamp issue of November 15 commemorating 1985 as International Youth Year.

1985- Organized and curated Rain Dance, a benefit party and exhibition for the US Committee for UNICEF's African Emergency Relief Fund.

1985- Designed four Swatch watches.

1985- Painted and distributed 20,000  Free South Africa posters.  

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berlin86.jpg copyright Keith Haring Foundation (16042 bytes) 1986- Painted a 300 foot mural on the Berlin Wall, West Germany.

1986- Created poster for The Great Peace March. march86.gif copyright Keith Haring Foundation (10638 bytes)

1986- Painted an outdoor mural and participated in a Children's drawing workshop in Amsterdam, Holland.

popshop.jpg copyright Keith Haring Foundation(22635 bytes) 1986- Opened Pop Shop in New York City as a means to distribute his art and message without using traditional art distributors and galleries.

1986- Collaborated with 1,000 New York City youths on a 6-story Citykids Speak on Liberty banner, dedicated on July 2 for the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration. liberty86.gif copyright Keith Haring Foundation (8440 bytes)

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1987- Participated in
Art Against AIDS

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1987- Painted outdoor mural at Necker Children's Hospital in Paris, France.

1987- Painted murals in Knokke, Belgium; Antwerp, Belgium; Dusseldorf, Germany; Tama City, Japan; and New York City.

1987- Participated in Children's drawing workshop at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, UK.

1987- Designed album cover, posters, and limited edition silkscreen for A&M Records' A Very Special Christmas, which proceeds were donated to Special Olympics.

1988- Keith was diagnosed with AIDS.

1988- Opened Pop Shop Tokyo, in Tokyo, Japan.

1988- Created poster and did public service announcement for Literacy Campaign, sponsored by Fox Channel 5 and New York Public Library Associations.

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1988- Created poster for
National Coming Out Day.

1989- Painted mural in Barrio de Chino, Together we can stop of page AIDS, in Barcelona, Spain.

1989- Painted murals in New York City, and Chicago, Illinois.

1989- Commissioned by the City of Pisa to paint a permanent mural on the exterior wall of Sant' Antonio church.

1989- The Keith Haring Foundation was created.  The Directors were selected by Keith Haring, and he created the Foundation's mission: to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's organizations, and to expand the audience for his work through exhibitions and publications, as well as through the licensing of his images.

1990- Created First Day Cover and limited edition lithograph to accompany United Nations' stamp issue of March 16 commemorating 1990 as Stop of page AIDS Worldwide Year.

1990- February 6, Keith Haring died, as a result of AIDS.

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WWW Links

There are numerous web sites containing either information about Keith Haring and his art.

The best site is the official Keith Haring site, run by his estate, which gives information about his life, art, activism, charities, and the online Pop Shop.

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There is a site with online shows and places to buy prints, as well as an online gallery of Keith Haring's outdoor sculptures in San Francisco.  There are also several sites with articles about Keith Haring's art and influence on pop culture, his biography, and his place in pop culture history.  School teachers may find information on curriculum using Keith Haring's art.

Still more:

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Recommended Books and Articles


Blinderman, Barry. Keith Haring: Future Primeval. Abbeville Press, 1992.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Gruen, John. Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography. Simon & Schuster Trade Paperbacks, 1992.

Here Keith Haring's story is told by those who knew him - and by the artist himself. He candidly reflects on all aspects of his life, including his approach to art, being gay, and how he came to terms with AIDS.

Haring, Keith. Keith Haring. Germany: Prestal Verlag, 1997.
Haring, Keith. Keith Haring’s Big. Hyperion Books for Children, 1998.
Haring, Keith. Keith Haring’s Ten. Hyperion Books for Children, 1998.
Haring, Keith. Love. Bulfinch Press, 1999.
Images of hearts and lovers figure prominently in Haring's artistic vocabulary--with his most "lovely" images expressing what cannot be said in words.

Haring, Keith. Nina’s Book of Little Things. Germany: Prestal Verlag, 1994.
An activity book created by the late Keith Haring. With his bold colors & gentle humor, Haring invites the readers to complete the book by filling in the "little things" that are important: "little things I accomplished," "little things I heard today," "little things a little bird told me," "little things a rabbit found at the top of page of the ladder." Haring's instructions to the original Nina, daughter of the artist Francesco Clemente, asked her to draw, paint, write, glue & staple favorite things around his own vibrant pictures of grinning gold dogs, big blue birds & fierce tomatoes.

La Valette, Desiree. Keith Haring: I Wish I Didn’t Have to Sleep. Germany, Prestel Verlag, 1997.
Presents information about Keith Haring, along with a number of his pictures accompanied by "stories" about what they depict.

Marshall, Richard. Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Schare: In Your Face. Malca Fine Art, 1997.
Sussman, Elisabeth. Keith Haring. Bulfinch Press, 1997.
In 1980, mysterious chalk drawings of simple outline figures began appearing on unused advertising space in New York City's subway stations. Combining the appeal of Disney cartoons with the sophisticated "primitivism" of such artists as Jean Dubuffet, these underground artworks were bold, humorous, accessible, subversive--and unmistakably the work of one man, Keith Haring.

Thompson, Robert. Keith Haring Journals. Viking Penguin, 1996.
Renowned in his lifetime for spontaneous, hands-on, archetypal imagery, Keith Haring captured a street audience while ignoring the art world establishment. Since his death Haring has gained increasing attention as a serious, visionary artist. His journals, kept from high school until his just before his death from AIDS in 1990, dispel any lingering notion of him as a "naive" artist and reveal his conscious, committed drive to expand the boundaries of art


Gardner, James. "Radiant Baby." National Review, 10/27/97, Vol. 49 Issue 20, p58.
Helfand, Glen. "Fresh Haring." Advocate, 07/08/97 Issue 737, p64. 



Drawing the Line – A Portrait of Keith Haring. Kultur Video, 1989.
Keith Haring, successor to Andy Warhol's pop zeitgeist, was an artist whose playful drawings made a serious commentary on the 1980's. His work, kinetic iconography rooted in primitivism, can be found throughout the spectrum of mass culture, from skateboards to subway walls. This is an inside view of an artist whose passion for the contemporary human conditions was the fervor that drove his art.

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Quotes about Keith

"Knowing that he was infected with AIDS, Keith continued to travel extensively and work constantly. Much of his work was directed toward nurturing artistic talent in children.  Chapeau for his courage and vitality in the face of death."
-- William S. Burroughs

"Keith could have jumped out of a time-capsule in the paleolithic age and started drawing on cave walls and they would have understood and laughed -- particularly the kids.  I showed his drawings to the Australian aborigines who initiated me and they grinned and nodded their heads.  Keith communicated in the basic global icons of our race."
-- Timothy Leary

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Related Events

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Pop Art

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