Keith Haring (1958-1990) was among that first generation of gay men lost in the initial wave of the plague. He was diagnosed with HIV in late 1988, but he continued to produce his art until the very end, when he could hardly hold a pencil or brush. Haring’s bold lines and primitive figures carry poignant messages of vitality and unity.
Famous for his graffiti-inspired drawings, Haring used the city as a canvas making chalk drawings in subway stations and later started exhibiting in museums. His signature images included various dancing figures, a radiant baby, a flying saucer, large hearts and figures with television heads. This recognizable imagery was soon transferred to the paper and canvas, and the unique energy and optimism of his art, as well as the recognizable style consisting of bold lines and bright colors, has provided him a great affection and admiration.
Haring had a specific concept of what art should represent and strongly believing that it is not something that should be owned and sold but belongs to the community, he opened his “Pop Shop” with affordable items like posters and tee-shirts to make his art widely accessible. Ironic now, when his painting Untitled (1982) sold at auction at Sotheby’s last year for $6,537,500.
Haring’s work is in major private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) and the Whitney Museum in New York City; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Bass Museum in Miami; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; the Ludwig Museum in Cologne; and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. He also created a wide variety of public works, including the infirmary at Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and the second-floor men’s room in the LGBTQ Community Center in Manhattan, which was later transformed into an office and is known as the “Keith Haring Room”.
His legacy has made a lasting impact on late 20th century art and beyond. During his brief career, Haring invented an entire cartoon universe inhabited with crawling children, barking dogs and dancing figures. Haring was just 31 years old when he left this wretched world in 1990. I cried this morning thinking about him, yet, I have to say that Haring leaves me with a more positive vision for the future.
Today, Haring would have, should have, been celebrating his 64th birthday.