Gay Iconography | Keith Haring

Gay Iconography: Celebrating Keith Haring

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Whether gracing New York City subway stations, murals in Melbourne or Tokyo, or lining the walls of the finest art galleries, openly-gay artist Keith Haring made a massive impact. Not only is he a gay icon himself, but his unmistakable work — featuring radiant babies, barking dogs and three-eyed faces — have becomes icons in their own right.

His work is easily identifiable by its vibrant colors, bold lines and dynamic figures. The cartoonish works blend the worlds of pop culture, high-art and graffiti, but there’s also serious subtext. Haring’s art brought gay culture and HIV/AIDS into the mainstream consciousness.

Check out some of our favorite footage of Haring at work and friends discussing his art, AFTER THE JUMP ...


Haring first gained attention with his drawings in subways. His quick style suited the task, as he was able to produce his unique images (often) before getting caught for graffiti. The newsclip above from CBS Evening News showcases Haring’s roots in the NYC subways.


Part of what made Haring’s approach so unique was his blend of art and commercialism. He opened up his own “Pop Shop” in 1986 to sell memorabilia featuring his designs. When asked about commercialism in his work, he 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 feature above shows Haring in his Pop Shop in NYC.


A fixture in the downtown NYC art scene, Haring mingled with plenty of musicians, including fellow gay icons Madonna and Grace Jones. His work appeared on the cover of the A Very Special Christmas holiday albums. He designed the jacket Madonna wore during an appearance on Solid Gold and created outfits and body paint for Grace Jones’ “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You)” video.


His mainstream appeal and pop culture ubiquity made him an all the more powerful advocate for social issues. His work tackled safe sex, crack cocaine and Apartheid, among other causes. Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In 1989, he started the Keith Haring Foundation to benefit AIDS organizations and children’s programs. He died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications. Madonna dedicated portions of her Blond Ambition World Tour to Haring and AIDS charities.


Haring’s legacy lives on today. Google honored Haring with a Google Doodle in 2012. Christina Clausen examined his life and work with interviews in 2008’s The Universe of Keith Haring.

What's your favorite Keith Haring work?

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  1. Awesome.

    Ha Madonna has always been a calculated stan. Can't take that away from her!

    Posted by: Rowan | May 24, 2014 5:29:30 PM

  2. I love the "crack is wack" billboard on the upper east river drive. I could kick myself for NOT buying anything at the Pop Shop when I used to visit there all the time...thanks for a brilliant post.

    Posted by: Patrick | May 24, 2014 6:39:56 PM

  3. Celebrating Keith Haring? He made doodles about loveless sex with strangers. He died of AIDS. How about we don't celebrate Keith Haring, but instead celebrate the dawn of a new, better generation, which will elevate love, not exploitative, loveless sex.

    Posted by: Tennenbaum | May 24, 2014 8:46:11 PM

  4. I knew Keith and he was a wonderful person.
    @Tennenbaum---What is it with these negative and corrosive young people who think they plowed the field they now walk upon. And yes I'm assuming Tennembaum is 'young' because he states about a 'new, better generation.....yeah right....lolol.

    Posted by: dcspdrcr | May 24, 2014 9:16:24 PM

  5. I can't see the continuing cultural importance of Keith Haring's work. I have nothing against it, but the hype for his art seems manufactured. I esteem his work about as much as I do a "Flintsones" episode, which I used to like, but it's nothing earthshaking.

    Posted by: will | May 24, 2014 10:06:06 PM

  6. I'd love to see YOUR work. LOL

    Posted by: Patrick | May 24, 2014 10:32:58 PM

  7. Oh yes, this new generation is gonna be really awesome and do everything right. Thank god they came when they did haha

    Posted by: Richards | May 24, 2014 11:43:48 PM

  8. oh WILL, Id love to see how your art is changing the world. Please share it with us plebes.

    Posted by: Richards | May 24, 2014 11:44:27 PM

  9. I was just in Italy with my family. We went to Pisa one day and out of the blue is a huge Keith Haring mural on the side of a building. None of us were expecting it. Totally cool

    Posted by: Jerry | May 24, 2014 11:45:17 PM

    "The uploader has not made this video available in your country.

    Sorry about that."


    Posted by: NotForYou | May 25, 2014 12:34:04 AM

  11. I acknowledge his cultural and historical significance as well as the fact that opinions on art are subjective. But I do not find his work moving or aesthetically pleasing and I find it overrated.

    Posted by: brandon h | May 25, 2014 1:04:07 AM

  12. I saw some of his "work" on the wall of the bathroom in the NYC LGBT community center. I'm not kidding, it covered the walls of one particular bathroom there and they maintained it after his death as a work of art. Honestly, I thought it was sad. it was a bunch of stick figures with no facial features, color, or detail, all depicted as having sex with one another in a bathroom.

    The stick figures themselves could have been produced by an 8-year old in a grade school art class. But what was really sad was what he was was portraying. No love. No kindness. No humanity. No connection. Just mass copulation in a place where people defecate. Maybe we are not supposed to judge, but it doesn't seem like anything to celebrate, IMHO.

    Posted by: Anthony Rall | May 25, 2014 5:24:54 AM

  13. My Keith Haring story goes like this. It was 1987, I was 18. I was on a subway platform on my way to work when this guy came out of nowhere and started drawing on an empty ad space. Once he was done, I thought "WOW, that's amazing, I wish I could draw". Then, later that summer while I was at the LGBT community center attending the youth group, I went up to the 2nd floor bathroom and there he was, painting this now iconic piece that's still in the bathroom. I told him I saw him once and loved his work. He invited me to a showing of his work. Our social circle intertwined a little after that. I miss him very much.

    Posted by: Mike Dreyden | May 26, 2014 8:53:43 AM

  14. Urgh, some people on here are idiots. Haring was an amazing artist, and not only for his time. I regularly walk past his mural here in Melbourne, Australia and still find his work to be bold, innovative and most of all, exciting.

    Posted by: Josh | May 26, 2014 10:08:25 PM

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