With his bold lines, bright colours and extraordinary mix of mediums, it’s no surprise that Keith Haring is instantly recognisable in the modern art world. Born in Pennsylvania, he trained in New York and first emerged on the East Village art scene in the 1980s.
Many of Haring’s most famous creations combine contemporary art practices with street-savvy graffiti, ultimately creating a brand-new aesthetic that’s highly skilled yet accessible to all. Although he sadly died young at the age of 31, he’s left a lasting legacy. Let’s take a closer look at Keith Haring’s short yet incredibly successful career.
Haring grew up in Pennsylvania in the 1960s and fell in love with art after being taught how to draw cartoons by his father. By this time, Pop Art was in its golden years and there were numerous pop culture influences – including the cartoons of Walt Disney – that Haring is thought to have drawn inspiration from.
He enrolled at Pittsburgh’s Ivy School of Professional Art in 1976, but dropped out after just two semesters to pursue his own unique forms of art. After two years of private study, he moved to New York City and started at the prestigious School of Visual Arts. At the same time as gaining a formal education, he explored the city’s burgeoning alternative arts scene. Stepping away from museums and galleries, Haring made friends with graffiti artists, musicians and other innovators, including Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Over time, he developed his own expressionist form of graphic art that’s now become just as iconic as Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can prints. Many of Haring’s best-known pieces are public works of art that were originally designed to support certain social or political causes. This work was continued through the Haring Foundation after the artist’s death from AIDS-related complications in 1990.
From public murals to vibrant prints, Haring’s inimitable artwork spans multiple mediums. He packed the majority of his prolific career into one decade – the 1980s – although you’ll still spot his line drawing designs adorning clothing, shoes and homewares across the globe today.
Haring’s New York subway murals were some of his first pieces of public art and he created over 5000 between 1980 and 1985. He first got the idea after spotting several blank advertising panels and began drawing over them in white chalk. The drawings were designed to appeal to people of all ages, with the subject matter less politicised and more positive than his other works.
While more traditional graffiti artists of the era used spray paints and almost always worked at night, Haring took a different approach. He created his chalk drawings during the daytime when the subway stations were busy and there was an audience for him to interact with. It was a great promotional tool and likely contributed to him becoming a household name.
Ever seen a t-shirt or a pair of trainers adorned with a Haring print? Back in 1986, the artist actually opened up an entire store called the Pop Shop on Lafayette Street in Soho, NYC.
Its sole aim was to attract people from every walk of life and make his work – whether that was a t-shirt, a badge or a print – available to all. Or, in his own words: “The Pop Shop makes my work accessible. It’s about participation on a big level.”
As well as selling wares emblazoned with his graphic designs, Haring also spent time designing and decorating the space itself; visitors could not only expect a shopping trip but a creative immersive experience. In 1987, he opened a second shop on the streets of Tokyo with a similar concept.
Haring’s works continue to remain popular in the world of streetwear, fitting in with his wish to make his work as widely accessible as possible. The Pop Shop in Soho remained open until 2005 before moving over to an online store.
As well as public street art, Haring’s main body of work consisted of dozens of pieces that used a variety of printmaking techniques such as screen printing, lithography and embossing. Most of his works feature patterns, contrasting colours and some aspect of movement – whether that’s through shape or simple repetition.
A lot of Haring’s art reflects on certain themes, with some of the more obvious ones being religion, war, sexuality and politics. Fundamentally though, his stylised creations often promoted love and unity – his figures were typically drawn without gender or a specific race and were often seen joyfully dancing.
You’ll spot a few repeating figures in some of Haring’s works too. This includes the Radiant Baby and the Barking Dog. While the former represents new life, innocence and positive energy, the latter first sprung up in his subway drawings and is thought to be symbolic of the power struggles and abuses of governments and other authoritative regimes.
Always wanted to own a Keith Haring print? His eye-catching style and often joyful themes make his graphic drawings the perfect match for any modern home. We stock a huge range of options, from monochrome posters to dynamic designs created for specific charitable events throughout Haring’s life.
Add a little bit of New York City – Haring’s main stomping ground during his career – to your home with this glorious Statue of Liberty poster.
The image evokes celebration and is actually a smaller version of a huge banner that Haring was commissioned to create in 1986 to commemorate 100 years since the USA first received the Statue of Liberty from Paris. It’s a brilliant example of Haring’s use of bright colours and features a trio of figures jumping joyfully in the foreground.
If black and white artwork fits your home’s aesthetic, our 100cm x 100cm print of Haring’s Party of Life Invitation might just be a match made in heaven. It’s easily one of the most popular picks by the artist thanks in part to its use of solid black lines. The abstractness of the interlocking figures pulls it away from being true graffiti, while the lack of colour means it can fit into almost any décor theme.
This unsigned lithograph was produced for the Crack-Down Fund Concert held in New York in 1986. It was organised to raise awareness of the growing drug problems in some of the city’s boroughs, with Haring’s designs used on posters promoting the event.
In addition to its dramatic use of colour, the lithograph poster is provocative and eye-catching in its subject matter. It’s also instantly recognisable as a Haring print due to both its cartoon-like figures and graphic lines. Want to make a statement in your living room or office? Crack Down! might just be the answer.
Browse even more prints and posters from one of the most influential artists of the late 20th century in our full collection of Keith Haring prints. If you fancy similar art pieces but from a different artist, browse our collection of pop artwork.