Keith Haring: gone but still with us

January 30, 2015
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This normally sits outside San Francisco’s Moscone Center and is temporarily at the museum. Haring believed sculpture should be climbed on, interacted with.

If you don’t know Keith Haring by name you certainly do by his art, which is original and vibrant and super-recognizable. He was an amazing artist who died in 1990 too young–31–from AIDS. But he left a huge body of work, surprisingly large for someone who left us so young..

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This is the DeYoung, one of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. We are members and enjoy visiting as often as we can.

The DeYoung Museum in San Francisco’s exhibition of Haring’s work has been one of its most popular, as you might expect.  I loved its vibrance and vitality.


2015-01-17 09.15.26How about a walk through the exhibition from the comfort of your home? I knew you’d say yes. So let’s start. This exhibition is the first to look at Haring’s work from a social justice perspective, so view these images with that in mind. Also, Haring didn’t title many of his works. Well, he DID: they were called Untitled. His thought was that the art lover should make his or her own interpretation.

At first, I found it frustrating, because I’m lazy and don’t want to figure things out. Love me a good crib sheet. But as I walked through his works, I came to appreciate having my own thoughts about what I was viewing.


“Drawing is basically the same as it has been since prehistoric times. It brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.” ~Keith Haring in his Journals.

I’m sure you recognize his work, right? Haring began with public art in subways, white chalk drawings that made political and social statements. From there, he simply spread his wings. He said he wanted to break down barriers between high and low art and he did.


20150117_101332We know his paintings, but I wasn’t aware of how many different media he worked in.  It’s hard to just flip through his work–it requires the viewer to look closely at all components and decipher the message. Some are easier to discern than others.


2015-01-17 10.01.31Haring was an activist, concerned with racism, apartheid, nuclear proliferation and so much more.


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“Art becomes the way we define our existence as human beings.” ~Keith Haring in his Journals.

While the casual observer might think his iconic cartoons are just delightful and giddy figures, Haring used his art for advocacy.



A Pile of Crowns for Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

Above, an homage to the artist, Basquiat.


Nothing subtle about this stabbing.

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You can’t see that a black lightbulb has replaced her eternal flame.

With this symbol of freedom, Haring asks questions about where we are with freedom today.


20150117_101419Brain replaced by a computer…see that?


Haring viewed sex as an important part of his life, and his art reflected that. But not always in positive way, for obvious reasons. When sex becomes a killer, well….



“Everything goes in circles and repetition is a law of nature.” ~Keith Haring in his Journals.

Back in his day, the work was ubiquitous. Love this car.


20150117_101258There’s a real Hieronymus Bosch feel to some of his pieces.



“Every time I make something I think about the people who are going to see it and every time I see something I think about the person who made it.” ~Keith Haring in his Journals.

If I were to purchase a piece, it would be this one.  Even as he makes political and social statements, his work has a real vitality to it.


20150117_101006A modern totem pole.

20150117_101013Looking more closely at the totem pole.


20150117_101135I’ve seen his work and this exhibition referred to as “politically savage.”



Hollywood African Mask, 1987

I loved this.


2015-01-17 10.03.17The penis is a key component of his work. And was a key component of his life. And death, as it turned out.


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When a man watches his community die of AIDS –and knows that he will die that way, too, he can not remain silent.



Silence=Death/Keith Haring. “I am making things in the world that won’t go away when I do. The world will, however, go on without me being there to see it, it just won’t be ‘my’ world then.” ~Keith Haring in his Journals.

AIDS was the subject of his later work and most powerful were his images of horned sperm. These figures above are covering their eyes, ears, mouths and are meant to represent the silence that surrounded AIDS at the time and how people with AIDS felt oppressed and invisible.

Although he was an advocate of safe sex, he was diagnosed and died of AIDS within just a few years. It was the scourge of the gay community in the 1980s.


2015-01-17 10.00.39His point is clear in his work, which represents so much of the 1980s. Shockingly, it still represents so much of our world.

Thank you, Keith Haring, for sharing so much of your gift with us.


A self portrait, 1985.

Everything, every memory becomes invaluable, timeless. But the “things” will survive me, the memories will die with me.” ~Keith Haring in his Journals.

24 comments on “Keith Haring: gone but still with us
  1. Terrific job on highlighting a prolific career. He produced so much in so little time. Almost like he felt a deadline looming. What an impact he had on legitimizing street art.

  2. Thank you for sharing this exhibition! I actually had never seen some of his edgier stuff, more the tourist-friendly radiant baby t-shirts you can buy at souvenir stores in the East Village. Powerful stuff. Wish he was still with us.

    My favorite Haring art is the marvelous mural that he did at the Carmine Street Recreation Center pool where I sometime swim in the summertime – it dances (like all of his stuff)!

  3. Diane says:

    I am in awe of anyone who can paint (or sculpt, or create) art. And to do it so well . . .
    I had only fleetingly heard of Haring. And seen a couple of his pieces. Thank you for this!

  4. Kim Tackett says:

    We saw the show last Sunday. I thought I knew quite a bit about him before the show, but seeing the pieces, so large was really powerful. I really felt the strength of one device and one idea…though he had many ideas. But he was consistently bold and unflinching. Many of the pieces felt like Aztec tapestries. Steve said he felt like he was taking a journey each time he entered a painting…I thought that was a very cool description.

  5. What an exceptional artist. Gone way too soon. Thanks for sharing his fabulous exhibit with us Carol!

  6. I’m left wondering how much more beauty and whimsey he could have added to the world had he not died at such a young age.

  7. i sure do know his art. And I love it. Thanks for telling us a little more about the man behind those iconic, playful pieces.

  8. Awesome to experience this with you. Unlikely I’ll see this in person so appreciate having you as my docent. Timeless expression that can speak to everyone.

  9. I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of Haring’s work at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where I live in Toronto. And a big Basquiat exhibit is starting soon there soon and looking forward to experiencing that. Haring’s work is a memory of this time in our history and I appreciate both his art and his social message as well. Thanks for the wonderful tour and would love to have the opportunity to see it myself.

  10. I am familiar with his work but not the person so thank you for introducing this all to me. How fascinating. I liked the mask and I respect the person. How tragic to have lost such a gifted person at such a young age. Thanks for writing this post, Carol.

  11. It’s amazing how much incredible work he created in his short life. It’s also sad to lose such a talent. Thanks for the great tour!

  12. Great tour! Some of it I like, some not… as in most exhibits of ‘edgy’ work. I remember hearing a little about him in Contempoary Art History class but we covered so much and only got a fleeting sample. Your presentation is wonderful it felt almost as good as being there. Haring sure did produce a lot in his small time here. I agree with the one you like.

  13. Carolann says:

    His worked looked so familiar to me. Thanks much for opening up his world and sharing it. Tragic ending to a brilliant light!

  14. Kimber says:

    What a fascinating look at his artwork! Thank you for the tour. I wasn’t familiar with him previously. I think my very favorite was the sculpture at the top – if more artwork were interactive, I think more children would be interested in art. 🙂

  15. Andi says:

    Living in the SF Bay Area I feel privileged to have access to Keith’s work. I have been to the museum and love the work!

  16. Wow, thank you for giving us this virtual tour. I love the information about some of the focus behind the work. It’s amazing how much we can say without words, the intense emotional impact that can be elicited.

  17. Never heard of this artist before. Thanks for introducing it to us, Carol. It’s amazing how this type of art can be so meaningful,

  18. Thank you for teaching me something new today. Something I won’t forget!

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