It’s hard to think of a contemporary artist who’s had more of an impact on American culture than Keith Haring. Born on May 4th, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Haring’s artistic skill was evident from a very early age. He was captivated by the drawings of illustrators like Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney, and these influences can be seen in a great deal of his adult work. Although simple and cartoonish, his drawings were often highly symbolic and imbued with deep political meaning, tackling issues pertaining to race, sexuality, class, and drug culture.
However, his art was never inaccessible; he wanted his work to communicate with everyone, not just the stuffy art crowds, and it’s easy to see this desire in his bold, youthful style. Throughout his short career, Haring devoted much of his time to cultivating a truly “public” art. From 1982 to 1989 he produced more than 50 public artworks in dozens of cities around the world. He famously tagged images all over the NYC subway system after moving there in 1978.
Haring used these spaces to contend with the difficult and taboo issues of the 80s, such as sexuality. Much of his work featured human forms in strange and twisted positions and explored how the human body was enriched, threatened, and manipulated by sex and desire. Another big focus of Haring’s work was the AIDS crisis. As an openly gay man, Haring had a vested interest in the rights of the LGBT community, and some of his best work directly confronted the repression AIDS victims suffered in the 1980s. “Silence=Death” is perhaps the most well-known of these pieces.
Unfortunately, Haring succumbed to the same illness he spoke out for in 1990. Although he died far too young, Haring’s work has gone on to have a rich and diverse afterlife, one that continues to nurture and inspire artists today.
Featured image via pcpmedia.us