An Artist's Life: Keith Haring

In honor of artist Keith Haring's 59th birthday today, we look at some facts about his life and art that testifies to his humanity, creativity, and activism.
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Keith Haring Photo By Joe McNally/Getty Images

Keith Haring (Photo: Joe McNally/Getty Images)

Born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring went on to pursue his dreams in New York City, becoming an influential figure in its art scene with his 80s street culture and socially conscious drawings and paintings.

Hobnobbing with celebrity artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Madonna, Haring was able to use his own growing celebrity status and break through internationally, traveling as far as Australia and Rio de Janeiro and painting large-scale murals in those countries' public spaces.

However, Haring's art career was short-lived. The artist fell victim to the growing AIDS epidemic and died on February 16, 1990 at the age of 31. But before he died he used his art to give voice to those who were dying from the disease.

In celebration of what would've been Keith Haring's 59th birthday, here are some interesting facts about the young artist who lived a remarkable, albeit brief life.

Keith Haring : In honor of Haring’s 50th birthday, a team of artists recreated his famous 1982 outdoor mural and presented it in NYC’s Bowery area on May 2, 2008.

In honor of Haring’s 50th birthday, a team of artists recreated his famous 1982 outdoor mural and presented it in NYC’s Bowery area on May 2, 2008.

- Before Haring was a progressive street-minded graffiti pop artist living in New York, he went through a religious phase at age 12, joining what was called the Jesus Movement, and tried to convince people they needed to become born again Christians.

- Growing up Haring was influenced by the cartoonish illustrations of Dr. Seuss, Looney Tunes and Charles Schulz.

- Although New Yorkers generally enjoyed Haring's street art, he was arrested by the NYPD on multiple occasions for vandalizing the subways.

- As a socially active artist who drew and painted images about war, sexuality, and life and death, Haring was ecstatic when he was invited to paint part of the Berlin Wall in 1986.

- Haring never told his parents that he was gay, referring to his boyfriends as bodyguards. His parents would later figure out the truth on their own.

- Inspired by his friend who battled drug addiction, Haring created one of his most famous works: the Crack Is Wack mural on New York's FDR Drive. After being diagnosed with AIDS in the late 1980s, Haring used his artwork to shed light on the disease, creating famous pieces like Silence = Death.

- Because he didn't want to feel like "a sell out" (only catering to rich clients) and believed his art should be accessible to everyone, Haring opened up a retail store called the Pop Shop, which sold his merchandise in the form of shirts, buttons, and posters.

- Influenced by his Christian past, Haring created one of his most famous drawings: the "Radiant Baby" (aka Radiant Christ). Haring described this drawing as the "purest and most positive experience of human existence." It was one of the last things he drew when he died.