Keith Haring’s Art in New York

“Obviously, the only place to go was New York. It was the only place where I would find the intensity I needed and wanted. I wanted intensity for my art and I wanted intensity for my life.” ― Keith Haring (1958–1990)

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Downtown Manhattan

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

We are observing Gay Pride Day 2018 with a focus on the fabulous fun art created by the out, loud and proud Keith Haring. His playful work celebrates life, love and the human spirit.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Downtown Manhattan

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

Born in Reading, PA, Keith Haring was raised in Kutztown, a nearby community. Mr. Haring showed his talent for drawing at an early age. Cartooning was the first drawing style he was exposed to by his father and popular culture. Mr. Haring graduated high school in 1976, enrolling then in a commercial arts school in Pittsburgh, the Ivy School of Professional Art. After two semesters, however, realizing he had no interest in a career as a commercial graphic artist, he quit; but he continued to study and work on his own. In 1978 he had a solo exhibition at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

Signature “Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

“Children know something that most people have forgotten.”
― Keith Haring, “Keith Haring Journals”

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

Later in 1978 Mr. Haring moved to New York City, where he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts. The Big Apple’s thriving alternative art community, having nothing to do with the gallery and museum system, swept up Mr. Haring with its energy and spirit. Along the way he became friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat (whose grave at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is included on our Gay Graves Tour). Andy Warhol and Christo influenced Mr. Haring to devote his career to creating art for the public.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

“The public has a right to art. The public is being ignored by most contemporary artists. Art is for everybody.”
― Keith Haring, “Keith Haring Journals”

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

Enlisting his strong commitment to drawing, in 1980 Mr. Haring found his voice. When he noticed blank advertising spaces covered with black paper on subway platforms he took up a piece of a white chalk to fill the blank panels with his unique line drawings. He produced hundreds of “subway drawings,” as many as forty in a day, between 1980 and 1985. Mr. Haring called the subway his “laboratory” for developing his ideas and his simple style.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

“I am interested in making art to be experienced and explored by as many individuals as possible with as many different individual ideas about the given piece with no final meaning attached. The viewer creates the reality, the meaning, the conception of the piece.”
― Keith Haring, “Keith Haring Journals”

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog),” 1986, Keith Haring

Between 1980 and 1989 Mr. Haring’s art became recognized internationally; he was part of group and solo exhibitions, in New York at the Westbeth Painters Space in 1981, the Tony Shafrazi Gallery the following year, and the Whitney Biennial; the Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany; and the São Paulo Biennial. Mr. Haring was commissioned for numerous commercial projects, including animation for the Spectacolor billboard in Times Square; sets and backdrops for theaters and clubs; watch designs for Swatch; and an advertising campaign for Absolut vodka. A retail store, called the Pop Shop, was opened in Soho by Mr. Haring in April of 1986. It sold T-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and magnets featuring his artwork.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Two Dancing Figures),” 1989, Keith Haring

Throughout his career, Mr. Haring devoted himself to public works, which often expressed social messages. Between 1982 and 1989, in cities around the world, he produced more than 50 public artworks. Many were created for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centers and orphanages. Mr. Haring’s commitment to children was a running thread throughout his career. He taught children’s drawing classes in schools and museums in New York, Amsterdam, London, Tokyo and Bordeaux, France. His “Crack is Wack” mural on East 128th Street and Harlem River Drive is a 1986 landmark. That same year he worked with 900 children to create a mural for the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. He painted a mural on the western side of the Berlin Wall three years before it fell.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Two Dancing Figures),” 1989, Keith Haring

In 1988 Mr. Haring received a diagnose of AIDS. The following year he established the Keith Haring Foundation, with the mandate to provide funding to AIDS organizations and children’s programs, and to expand the audience for his work by way of exhibitions, publications and licensing his art. Mr. Haring used his talent and celebrity in his remaining years for education about AIDS. Mr. Haring died from complications of AIDS, aged 31, on February 16th 1990. On May 4th of that year a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; more than 1,000 people attended.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Two Dancing Figures),” 1989, Keith Haring

Two delightful sights in the Financial District were across from The Battery, two large, brightly-painted sculptures by Keith Haring. Conforming to his very distinctive style these two pieces, Untitled (Two Dancing Figures), made of aluminum, and Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog), cast from steel stood on the plaza surrounding the curved glass office tower at 17 State Street. Untitled (Two Dancing Figures) has been removed, leaving only Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog) to brighten the day of the lawyers, finance folk and tourists who roam the streets by day. A version of Untitled (Figure Balancing on Dog) stands in a hilltop playground in Kutztown, PA where Mr. Haring grew up. Mr. Haring loved children.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village

“Untitled (Two Dancing Figures),” 1989, Keith Haring

Interlocking their arms and kicking their right legs high in the air, the yellow and red aluminum, larger-than-life dancers look like two Rockettes who have journeyed downtown in a lively escapade, bringing levity to the financial districts’s denizens. They showcase Mr. Haring’s signature style and energy in three-dimensional form.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village, Triptych

“The Life of Christ,” 1990, Keith Haring

The Life of Christ, a triptych displayed on a side altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, was finished two weeks before Mr. Haring’s death. Though at first glance it appears to be a different from his vibrant signature style, exemplified by his 1980s work, this sculpture is packed with active figures, equally as exuberant as his murals.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village, Triptych

“The Life of Christ,” 1990, Keith Haring

There are nine castings of this triptych, the last artwork by Mr. Haring. They are made of bronze with white gold gilding. Mr. Haring carved the lines of the figures in clay in one go round, never returning to redraw or edit any of them, according to his friend Sam Havadtoy. One casting is on display in the Church of Saint-Eustache in the heart of Les Halles, Paris; it was a donation to the Roman Catholic church from the Keith Haring Foundation. Another casting is at Grace Church in San Francisco. The version at St. John the Divine was dedicated during Mr. Haring’s 1990 memorial service.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village, Triptych

“The Life of Christ,” 1990, Keith Haring

The Reverend Bruce D. Hatt baptized Mr. Haring at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Kutztown on December 28, 1958. As an adult organized religion was not part of Mr. Haring’s life; but he maintained a relationship with his place of worship. He gave a drawing of a nativity scene to the church in 1984. Five years later he donated money to support the church’s music and art programs. James Carroll, a boyhood friend, a fellow congregant at Kutztown’s St. John’s Church, and an art professor at Kutztown University, helped install Mr. Haring’s donation prominently at the church.

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village, Triptych

“The Life of Christ,” 1990, Keith Haring

“Art should be something that liberates your soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further.”
― Keith Haring

Keith Haring, Art, Downtown Manhattan, AIDS, Artist, Gay Artist, Gay Activist, Gay Pride, Murals, St. John the Divine, Carmine Street Mural, Drawing, Crack is Wack, New York City Parks, Greenwich Village, Triptych

“The Life of Christ,” 1990, Keith Haring

Read our other Gay Pride articles.
The Gay Liberation Monument
The Gay Rainbow Flag
Big Gay Success Story
Pride: Then and Now

Mr. Haring’s art can be seen on three of our guided walking tours. They are the Gay Village Walking Tour; the Downtown Manhattan Walking Tour; and our Gay Village Bar Crawl.

“I’m not afraid of anything I’d ever done.
Not ashamed of anything.”
― Keith Haring, “Keith Haring Journals”

ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT CREDITED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2018

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