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Keith
Haring

Discover art for sale. Buy and sell prints & editions online by Pop artist Keith Haring. Emerging from the New York City street art scene of the 1980s, Haring very quickly shot to international fame with his trademark pop-graffiti style.

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Biography

Adored New York activist and artist, Keith Haring is one of the most influential names in Contemporary Art, known for his bright, pop-graffiti style. Known for his colourful, playful and bold pop-graffiti style, he believed 'art is life, and life is art'.

Beginnings

Born in Pennsylvania in 1958, Keith Haring found his love of drawing at a young age through his father and popular cartoons, such as Walt Disney and Dr Seuss. After finishing high school, he enrolled at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh but quickly realised he had no interest in becoming a commercial graphic artist and dropped out. Haring moved to New York City in 1978 to study at the School of Visual Arts.

First Paintings

From 1980, Haring began to create hundreds of drawings in New York’s streets and subways, calling these spaces his 'laboratory'. This occasionally led him to being arrested, however it often ended in the artist's favour. 'More than once,' Haring recalled, 'I’ve been taken to a station handcuffed by a cop who realised, much to his dismay, that the other cops in the precinct are my fans and were anxious to meet me and shake my hand'.

Many of Haring’s motifs from these early murals, tags and paintings would reappear in his later art. One of these is the Radiant Baby symbol, which Haring has used since his graffiti days. He called the crawling infant radiating rays of light 'the purest and most positive experience of human existence'.

Another early motif, showing two figures under a heart, has been used in many forms throughout Haring’s career. He considered it a universal symbol for love and continued to use heart icons and dancing figures throughout his later works.

Success

In 1982, Haring joined the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in order to quit his day job as a cook and deliveryman and dedicate his time entirely to art. He was soon invited to participate in numerous solo and group exhibitions and became known for his street art style. By the mid-80s, Haring was exhibiting in international biennials and even designed a billboard for Times Square, an advertising campaign for Absolut Vodka and a Swatch watch, as well as painting murals all over the world.

Haring once said that 'Art is life, and life is art', and it is this all encompassing approach to art, alongside his prolific output, that brought him his success.

Most Famous Works

Ignorance = Fear, completed in 1989, is one of Haring’s most iconic artworks related to HIV/AIDS. Seeing the LGBTQ+ community devastated by epidemic, and himself diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, Haring used his art to raise awareness about the topic. The works he created often featured the pink triangle image, a symbol reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ rights movement after originally used during the Holocaust to mark those being targeted for homosexuality.

Other famous works were Haring’s Pop Shop prints. These playful, whimsical images were inspired by the artist’s commitment to making art accessible to all audiences. He opened Pop Shops in New York and in Japan, with their walls decorated with Haring’s murals, selling a range of t-shirts, badges, magnets and prints, starting at as little as 50 cents. While the project was praised by friends such as Andy Warhol, who was fascinated by the possibilities of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, Pop Shop was snubbed by many leading art world figures who placed more value on original works of art.

Speaking of the importance of opening the Pop shop, as opposed to making large canvases to please collectors, Haring said, 'I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art.'

Influences

Throughout his career, Haring collaborated with musicians, designers, writers and artists, including Grace Jones, Madonna, William Burroughs and Yoko Ono. But the most influential of them all was undeniably Andy Warhol. 'Warhol’s life and work made my work possible,' Haring once wrote, 'he was the first real public artist and his art and his life changed our conception of art and life in the 20th century'. Haring paid tribute to Warhol in a 1986 series entitled Andy Mouse that saw the famous Pop artist appear in Mickey Mouse shorts with his trademark spiky wig.

Haring’s works often confronted social and political events of the 1980s, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the drugs epidemic and Apartheid in South Africa. As an openly gay artist and activist in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, Haring used his art to fight against homophobia and advocate for safe sex, awareness and research around HIV and AIDS. He also created posters such as Crack Down in 1986 to raise awareness around drug abuse, as well as the Crack Is Wack mural in Harlem in response to the crack cocaine epidemic in New York City.

Style & Technique

In addition to painting, Haring’s desire to make his work more accessible perhaps contributed to his experimentation with printing techniques, such as lithography in the late ’70s and ’80s. In 1983, he began making screen prints and was soon producing ever more inventive and bold prints. Just before he died, Haring experimented with embossing, creating the elegant White Icons series, featuring his signature motifs without his signature bold colours.

Life & Times

Haring was well known for his generosity, contributing his talents and resources to numerous causes throughout his career. He ran art workshops for children, created posters for public service agencies and produced murals, sculptures and paintings in the public domain

A year after his diagnosis with AIDS in 1988, he set up The Keith Haring Foundation to provide funding and support to AIDS research, charities and education. The Foundation continues to support not-for-profit organisations that assist underprivileged children and works to maintain and expand the legacy of Keith Haring, his art and his ideals.

Last Paintings

After being diagnosed with AIDS, Haring was determined to continue creating as much art as possible, writing that 'work is all I have and art is more important than life'. He created his large-scale canvas The Last Rainforest in 1989, only a few months before he died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 31. The painting was one of Haring’s most remarkably detailed and virtuosic works and was initially supposed to be a part of a series of 100 paintings.

Sotheby’s sold the work as part of the David Lachapelle Collection in 2016, for £4.2million, stating 'It is a tempest; a melting pot where personal stories blend with societal issues and eroticism entwines with violence; where cruelty coincides with frivolity, and fantasy melds with inescapable truth. It should be viewed as Haring’s artistic last will and testament; a socio-political warning shot to those who would outlive him and a formal summation of his cruelly curtailed career. It is closely linked to his views on the AIDS crisis and on nuclear technology, and certainly connected to his environmental activism; it is densely packed with art-historical reference, and executed in a manner that demands the viewer’s attention.'

On The Market

The most expensive Haring painting at auction, Untitled, sold for a record-breaking $6.5 million (£5 million) in May 2017. His prints can sell for up to six-figure sums. Signed editions are the most sought-after but unsigned editions also sell well, as long as they have been verified by the Keith Haring Foundation.

Beyond the art market, Haring’s legacy lives on through the work of his Foundation. His art is still used in collaborations with contemporary brands, like UNIQLO, Adidas, Originals and Element, which continues the artist’s hopes of making art available to more people.

Untitled by Keith Haring

Untitled © Keith Haring 1982

1. £5.0M for Keith Haring's Untitled, 1982

On 18 May 2017, Untitled soared past its US$6million high estimate in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York, setting a new world auction record for the artist. The work presents the ultimate combination of Haring’s best-known motifs – street art aesthetic, cartoon figures, dogs and a overriding political message. Inspired by the conflicts between of governmental authority and youth culture, the work presents the battle of good versus evil and life versus death – subjects that were close to Haring’s heart and inspired him throughout his career.

Silence = Death by Keith Haring

Silence = Death © Keith Haring 1988

2. £4.4M for Keith Haring's Silence = Death

Painted in 1988, the year Haring was diagnosed with AIDS, Silence = Death is now one of the artist’s most iconic works. Here, the pink triangle – a symbol of gay pride – is used to raise awareness of the epidemic tearing apart New York’s queer and artistic community. “I don’t know if I have five months or five years, but I know my days are numbered. This is why my activities and projects are so important now,” Haring said in 1987 about his activism. When the work sold at Christie’s in New York on 15 May 2019, it became the second most expensive work by Haring in auction history.

3. £4.3M for Keith Haring's Untitled, 1984

Untitled presents a showdown between man, nature and technology. A computer is held on top of a pyramid, like a deity on a temple altar – around it a chaotic scene of worshippers, UFOs, robots and monsters crowd the composition.

It seems fitting therefore that this work is the very first tangible work of art to be sold at a major auction house with the option of payment via cryptocurrency. The work sold at Christie’s on the 30th June 2021 for £4,301,250, and aside from the hype surrounding the sale, the work is also one of Haring’s most beloved paintings - epitomising his inimitable illustrative style.

Indeed, when this work was originally unveiled at Paul Maenz’s gallery in Cologne in 1984 – Haring’s first solo exhibition in Germany – Maenz himself was so enchanted that he bought it for his own collection. “To me, Keith’s work is magic,” the gallerist later said.

The Last Rainforest by Keith Haring

The Last Rainforest © Keith Haring 1989