Haring once said that ‘Art is life, and life is art’, and it is this all encompassing approach to art as well as his prolific output that brought him his success. Known for his bold graphic style and playful sense of humour, Keith Haring is one of the most influential and adored artists of the 20th century. This success led him to open his famous Pop Shop in New York’s SoHo, of which he is probably most well known. In his own words the shop’s objective was to take “art off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people.”

What was Keith Haring’s first painting?

It’s difficult to pinpoint Keith Haring’s first work, since the graffiti artist used New York’s streets and subways to create his initial murals, tags and paintings in the early 1980s. A lot of the images the artist is famous for today were born in that space. One of them is the iconic symbol Radiant Baby, which started appearing around this time, depicting a crawling infant radiating rays of light that Haring called “the purest and most positive experience of human existence.”

Another early work is Untitled from 1982, which is a universal symbol for love and shows two figures with a heart and was recycled in various forms throughout Haring’s other artworks. A later version from 1989 is the screen print Untitled (two lovers), which was sold at Phillips for $43,750 in 2020.

Radiant Baby by Keith Haring - Silkscreen Print

Haring’s Radiant Baby

What was Keith Haring’s last painting?

The Last Rainforest was a large-scale canvas created in 1989 by Haring only a few months before he died at the age of 31 of AIDS, in 1990. The painting is 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crisis and on nuclear technology, and certainly connected to his environmental activism; it is densely packed with art-historical reference, and executed in a manner that demands the viewer’s attention.”

The Last Rainforest by Keith Haring - MyArtBroker

Haring’s The Last Rainforest, acrylic on canvas, 1989 ©Keith Haring

What is Keith Haring’s most famous work of art?

Ignorance= Fear was completed in 1989 is one of Haring’s most iconic artworks related to the AIDS epidemic. The artist was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, kickstarting his lifelong commitment to advocacy and artistic output around that topic. These artworks often featured the pink triangle image, which is a symbol reclaimed by the gay rights movement after originally used during the holocaust to mark those being targeted for homosexuality.

The other most famous artwork is Haring’s Pop Shop works. These playful, whimsical works were inspired by the artist’s commitment to making art accessible to all audiences. He opened two immersive Pop Shops in New York and in Japan with their walls decorated with Haring’s murals, selling a range of items from posters and art through clothes and trinkets to be purchased at an affordable price.

Speaking of the importance of opening the 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.” The Pop Shop remained open until 2005 and, contrary to many critics’ predictions, barely affected his market or cultural value.

Pop Shop by Keith Haring - MyArtBroker

Haring’s Pop Shop Quad III, 1988


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