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  • Writer's pictureTerry Bonneville

Who Was Keith Haring and Why Is He Important?

Nationality: American

Untitled, 1987, Keith Haring
Untitled, 1987, Keith Haring

Born: 4th May 1958

Died: 31st May 1990, aged 31

Renewed Interest in Keith Haring

There's been a resurgence of interest in the art of Keith Haring lately, partly due to Primark launching a range of Keith Haring-themed clothing, but also because there's currently another artist who, although carving out his own place in the art world, appears at first glance at least, to be heavily inspired by Haring - that man being the wonderful Mr Doodle!

If you grew up in the 1980s you're most likely already aware of Keith Haring's work, even if you're not really that interested in art because one of Haring's missions in life was to make art accessible and we here at Art Grenade believe he accomplished that with flying colours.

Keith Haring's Art Style

Haring's work is bold, simple, striking and disarmingly beautiful. They can at first appear to be brash, over-simplified cartoons but once you look closer and become accustomed to his style, there's a fierce energy to his work and Haring had a real eye for composition and graphic impact. No wonder his work appealed to the general public so much, and is now enjoying a renewed interest!

Radiant Baby by Keith Haring, 1990
Radiant Baby, Keith Haring, 1990

Keith Haring's Philosophy

Apart from his paintings, Haring is also remembered for his inclusive philosophy on art - he wanted to, in his own words, take art off the pedestal and give it back to the people. So much so, that in April 1986 he opened a shop in New York, where he was based and was a key part of the burgeoning 1980s New York art scene, named Pop Shop. The aim of this endeavour was to give the general public chance to buy his paintings at affordable prices, as they were rapidly becoming collectable and, therefore, expensive.

The Pop Shop, to some extent, also circumnavigated the art market by robbing it of its opportunity to make huge profits from his work. Haring was no fan of the commercial art world in general it seems, as he was snubbed by the art critics of the day, preferring to find his own audience in his own way, and so circumnavigating yet another enclave of the art establishment.

Crack is Wack, Keith Haring, 1986
Crack is Wack, Keith Haring, 1986


Haring was extremely community-focussed, creating artwork and murals for charities and children's hospitals as well as many public artworks, such as the famous Crack is Whack murel in East Harlem, a lively reminder of the dangers of drugs.

Haring's work often featured other social messages such as the promotion of social acceptance, AIDS awareness and comments on religious oppression.

Untitled, Keith Haring, 1984
Untitled, Keith Haring, 1984

A great piece on Haring's 2019 exhibition at the Tate Liverpool, UK can be found on The Guardian's website, where the author Laura Cumming focusses on Haring's messages, explaining them brilliantly.

Ignorance=Fear, Keith Haring, 1989
Ignorance=Fear, Keith Haring, 1989

We really hope you enjoyed this quick introduction to Keith Haring's art and that we've made our own small contribution to spreading the message of his work - if you liked this article please let us know in the comments section and subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates!

Further Reading

If you want to find out more about Keith Haring and his work, there's no better place than the official website of the Keith Haring Foundation. There's even a list of recommended books on their FAQ page.

If you want to pick up a book on Haring's work, we've put together a few recommendations for you:

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