Queer Icon: Keith Haring (1958-1990)

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By Kyle Parker

Keith Haring

Detailed, colorful, and vibrant are stained glass windows that line the interiors of historic cathedrals. They tell stories of the past, legends connected to religious text that reflect on days gone by, but also guide those looking to the future.

To look at a New York subway wall in the 1980s, one may wonder who left the graffiti art sprawling and weaving against the concrete. Bodies, dogs, ufos, squiggles, and blunt vivid brush strokes lined the walls, telling a story that still resonates today. Such wall art was done by the art angel, Keith Haring.

Haring was an openly gay man, living in 1980's New York City during the AIDS epidemic. Haring's artwork of dancing bodies, glowing babies, and barking dogs were often just the tip of the iceberg into a deeper political meaning. Haring made the personal political by incorporating images of gay sex, nudity, as well as discussion topics regarding the LGBTQ+ community that was not readily talked about at the time. Although cartoonish, every graphic brushstroke was a political stance for Haring, speaking out in support of safe sex for everyone. In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. The remainder of his life was focused on producing art that was directly and explicitly homosexual in its approach, and unwavering in creating a dialogue about AIDS/HIV, looking to the activist group ACT UP for guidance and influence.

In 1989, Haring created the Keith Haring Foundation, which provides assistance to AIDS and children's services by generating profit from licensing his images. May people look to his artwork to understand the past, appreciate the present, and fight for the future.