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The Iconic Life and Art of Keith Haring

Keith Haring photographed busy at work


An influential American artist known for his bold work & upfront societal opinions, Keith Haring first rose to popularity in the 1980s & became immediately recognisable through his iconic style, characterised by bold lines, bright colours & simple yet powerful symbols.  Continuing to captivate art enthusiasts & more, we wanted to take a little time to explore the life, art and enduring legacy of the iconic Keith Haring.


Keith Haring as a young boy in Pennsylvania"Little Keith"

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings

Born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania.  From a young age, he clearly displayed a passion for drawing & creativity, often spending time with his father Allen Haring (an engineer & amateur cartoonist himself) or consuming Disney, Dr Seuss, Charles Schulz or Looney Tunes.

Later in life, Haring's exposure to the 1980s New York City street art scene during his studies at the School of Visual Arts helped to shape his artistic vision.  Considering them his "laboratory", he adopted the public spaces & empty advertising boards of New York's subway system.

Using only a chalk marker, Haring produced countless pieces, often depicting or in some way including, "The Radiant Baby" (his tag at the time, used to sign off his work).


Keith Haring - The Radiant Baby

The Emergence of Haring's Iconic Style

Haring's art is almost the dictionary definition of "iconic", being instantly recognizable for its distinctive elements.

Drawing inspiration from graffiti & pop art, his pieces often dealt with cultural & social issues relevant at the time.
His signature symbols, including dancing figures, radiant babies, barking dogs & crawling babies, all became emblematic of his work, carrying with them strong social & political messages. 


Activism and Social Commentary

A celebrated figure throughout the 1980s, Haring's art quickly gained popularity & recognition worldwide for the bold, accessible style that appealed to a broad audience.  Not one for wasting an opportunity to highlight the things close to him, Haring was a vocal advocate for a variety of social causes, as found exampled in a number of his pieces.

This included (but is not limited to) apartheid, the war on drugs, racism, sexuality, safety & AIDS awareness.  With it's mainstream appeal, Haring used his art as a platform to raise awareness & inspire change, making him a prominent figure in the art world & a (still) influential voice in activism. 

Between 1982 - 1989 Haring produced more than 50 public artworks such as murals, sculptures & public installations at hospitals, day care centres, schools & public parks (many of which were made voluntarily), cementing his enduring legacy.


Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack" mural - NYC 1986"Crack is Wack" NYC- 1986

Legacy and Influence on Contemporary Art

Despite his untimely death in 1990 at the age of 31, Haring's impact & influence on contemporary art remains both profound & undeniable.

His bold aesthetic & commitment to social activism continues to inspire both artists & activists alike, being printed onto clothing, posters, books, accessories & more, even now.  This influence includes the world-renowned Keith Haring Foundation, an organisation dedicated to supporting the needy, dedicated to the education of children & AIDS research. 


Feeling Inspired?

Whilst we can't recommend drawing all over any local trains, we do have some materials for you to try your hand at recreating Keith's signature style at home!  Take a look for yourself, see if anything jumps out at you!


Of course, if you have any more questions or comments, just use the details below to speak with our team.
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Email: admin@cowlings.com
Telephone:  01303 290 550

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