10345258 Keith Haring Untitled (from Pop Shop IV), 1989

Inspired from a young age by the saturation of pop culture in America, Haring was drawn to cartoon-like imagery such as Dr. Seuss, which, simple in their style, carry a universal understanding. Just as Andy Warhol, who Haring would later meet and become mentored by, was inspired by advertising and icons, Haring was moved by the powerful message that can be created using what would later become his signature thick-lined graphics.

258126_0 Rick Powell, Keith Haring And His Idol Andy Warhol. NYC, 1986

Birth, death, love, sex and war: Haring was always direct with his meaning, which is perhaps why, during a time of mass consumer culture and mass images his works resignated with his 1980s audience, and still do with viewers today.

When Haring moved to New York, he found a place for his art outside of the mainstream gallery scene. He was energised to create by New York's subways, downtown streets and rundown clubs. It was in these spaces that he met his contemporaries Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as other artists, musicians and creative minds.

Club 57, at 57 St. Mark's Place in the East Village, New York City, became a Mecca for creative souls. Here, Haring would perform poetry as well as exhibit his work and wax lyrical with other artists.

But it was not just in these avant garde spaces that Haring's work thrived. His seemingly simplistic in form works were part of life for every New Yorkers who rode the subway, or walked past one of his murals in the streets.


Independence of the artist was important to Haring and he wanted to create truly public art. In 1980, Haring began to draw with chalk on unused matte black advertising panels in subway stations. Until 1985, Haring created hundreds of these subway pieces. He became part of the fabric of New York, with commuters stopping to ask him about his works as he was creating them. His vision of bringing art to the public sphere was a reality: not only was his art on display for all to see, but as an artist he was on display for all to interact with.


In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in SoHo, where he sold clothing, posters, toys and other pieces which were created with his art work. The project was a bid to further extend his vision of art for everyone.

© Keith Haring Foundation Photo by Tseng Kwong Chi | © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New Yor © Keith Haring Foundation Photo by Tseng Kwong Chi | © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New York

Social messages were a key part of Haring's oeuvre. He created posters and murals, not just in New York but around the world, supporting charities, projects, hospitals and orphanages.


One of Haring's most famous murals was the Crack is Wack mural which he created in 1986 at New York's FDR Drive.

In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDs. He spent a great deal of his later life speaking of his illness and creating awareness about AIDs.

false-33 Keith Haring, Self Portrait, incised with the artist's signature, number and date "K. Haring 89 ⊕ 2/10" on the base

Haring passed away of AIDS related complications at the age of 31 on February 16, 1990. On May 4, 1990, a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Over 1 000 people attended, showing just how many Haring touched with his art and activism during his life. His works truly have become part of the 20th century's universal visual language.