10 Surprising Facts About Keith Haring

Born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring is best known for his contributions to the New York City art scene in the 1980s. His graffiti-inspired artwork depicted simplified people, dogs, babies, hearts, and flying saucers. He often painted bold lines and bright colors to convey feelings of movement and radiance, and although he died in 1990 at just 31 years old, his artwork and legacy live on. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the artist, who would have turned 60 years old today.

1. ALL HIS SIBLINGS’S NAMES ALSO STARTED WITH THE LETTER 'K.'

Long before the Kardashians, all the children in Keith Haring’s family shared a first initial of K. His parents, Allen and Joan Haring, named their four kids Keith, Kay, Karen, and Kristen. The oldest child and only son, Keith loved watching and drawing cartoons like Mickey Mouse, Dr. Seuss, and Peanuts. As a young adult, he moved to New York City to pursue his love of art. Kristen Haring later recalled how her older brother would call home from New York to tell his family about his celebrity dinner companions, such as Grace Jones and Madonna.

2. NEW YORK SUBWAYS AND STREET CULTURE INSPIRED HIM.

Beginning in his early twenties, Haring used chalk to draw art in New York’s subways. The walls of the subway stations had panels—empty spaces for advertising—posted with black paper that Haring drew on with white chalk. His subway drawings were simple, and he did dozens of drawings per day in front of people who would watch him and ask him what the drawings meant.

3. HE FREQUENTLY GOT ARRESTED FOR HIS SUBWAY ART.

Although people generally felt positively towards Haring’s subway drawings, the NYPD ticketed and arrested him multiple times for vandalism. And despite drawing quickly to avoid getting arrested, he was still caught in the act by the cops. “More than once, I've been taken to a station handcuffed by a cop who realized, much to his dismay, that the other cops in the precinct are my fans and were anxious to meet me and shake my hand,” Haring said. By 1984, Haring’s artwork was so popular that people would steal his chalk drawings from subway stations and sell them.

4. HE BEFRIENDED ANDY WARHOL AND MADONNA.

Haring became very involved in the 1980s downtown New York art scene, befriending visual artists and performers such as Andy Warhol and Madonna. In a series of paintings called Andy Mouse, Haring depicted Andy Warhol with sunglasses and Mickey Mouse ears. And Haring tried his hand at fashion designing when he made a jacket and skirt for Madonna to wear for her performances—which she says she'd "never give up." She told Rolling Stone that she'd been introduced to him through a roommate, and then "we started hanging out at [legendary New York nightclubs] Danceteria and Mudd Club and the Roxy. … We'd dance, we'd watch break-dancing crews there and on the street."

5. HIS ORIGINAL ARTWORK IS ALL OVER THE WORLD.

In the 1980s, Haring drew public works murals around New York City, including his "Crack is Wack" mural at East 128th Street and Harlem River Drive. Although he’s best known as a New York artist, he didn’t stay solely in the city. He traveled all around the world to paint public murals in cities such as Paris, Berlin, Pisa, Sydney, Melbourne, and Rio de Janeiro. In these cities, he painted at children’s hospitals, charities, churches, and orphanages.

6. HE OPENED HIS OWN SHOP TO MAKE HIS ART ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE, NOT JUST ART COLLECTORS.

In 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop, a retail store in Soho (New York), to sell merchandise. The store offered shirts, posters, magnets, and buttons with his artwork on them. Aiming to make his art accessible to a larger audience, Haring opened another Pop Shop in Tokyo in 1987. Critics accused the artist of engaging in crass commercialism, but Haring asserted that he was doing the opposite of "selling out." "My work was starting to become more expensive and more popular within the art market," Haring said. "Those prices meant that only people who could afford big art prices could have access to the work. The Pop Shop makes it accessible."

7. HIS AIDS DIAGNOSIS INSPIRED HIS ARTWORK.

In 1988, Haring, who was openly gay, was diagnosed with AIDS, after many of his friends and partners had been dying of AIDS for years. He worked to raise AIDS awareness through his artwork, such as with his piece Silence=Death, and he incorporated symbols of homosexuality and AIDS—a pink triangle, horned sperm, and devils—in his art. "The hardest thing is just knowing that there's so much more stuff to do," he told Rolling Stone in 1989. "I'm a complete workaholic. I'm so scared that one day I'll wake up and I won't be able to do it." He died of complications from AIDS six months later, at 31 years old.

8. HE STARTED THE KEITH HARING FOUNDATION TO CONTINUE HIS LEGACY.

In 1989, a year after his AIDS diagnosis, Haring started the Keith Haring Foundation. Besides being passionate about AIDS awareness and prevention, Haring loved working with children to create collaborative murals. During his life, Haring led art workshops for kids in museums and schools around the world. The Keith Haring Foundation gives funding to children’s charities, AIDS research, and AIDS education, and it manages and licenses his artwork. Haring’s Pop Shop in New York stayed open for 15 years after his death before closing in 2005. (The Pop Shop in Tokyo closed in 1988.)

9. THE WORLD’S BIGGEST JIGSAW PUZZLE FEATURES HARING’S ART.

Getty Images

You can buy and assemble a massive jigsaw puzzle, which features 32 of Haring’s art pieces in one giant puzzle measuring over 17 feet by 6 feet. The 32,256 piece “Double Retrospect” puzzle, manufactured by a German puzzle company, weighs 42 pounds and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest commercially-available puzzle in the world.

10. A KEITH HARING BALLOON IN THE MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE CAUSED TROUBLE.

A 48-foot tall Keith Haring balloon, called “Figure With Heart,” appeared in the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it caused a ruckus when it hit the NBC broadcast booth, briefly interrupting the televised broadcast of the parade. The balloon—a white figure holding a red heart over its head—was based on an ink drawing that Haring had done. Manned by Haring's father, the balloon was featured in the parade to celebrate 50 years since the artist’s birth.

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

13 Gorgeous Coffee Table Books for Anyone on Your List

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

This holiday season, give the gift of a gorgeous, conversation-starting coffee table book. Here are 13 that you can get for anyone on your list, whether they're obsessed with history, art, or cats.

1. Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present; $50

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Deborah Willis’s incredible book features more than 200 photos—many that were previously unpublished—organized by theme. There are famous figures like Josephine Baker, Lil Kim, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as anonymous Black people in the neighborhood, reading magazines, and getting a cut from the barber. Willis spent 10 years doing research and combing through archives to create the book, which has been hailed as “a definitive history of black beauty … a treasure, a triumph and a singular achievement that invites fresh and enduring insights with each viewing.”

Buy it: Amazon

2. Parks: United States National Park Service Maps from the Collection of Brian Kelley; $57

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National Park enthusiasts will love this book, which pulls together more than 400 maps and other incredible visual treasures dating as far back as 1910.

Buy it: Amazon

3. America 1900; $70

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This stunning, 588-page behemoth of a book (it weighs almost nine pounds!) features the first color photos of North America, produced between 1888 and 1924. Taschen also has books devoted to France, Italy, and Germany at the same time period if you’re looking to gift a set.

Buy it: Taschen

4. Walter Chandoha. Cats: 1942-2018; $50

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After snapping photos of a kitten he’d rescued in 1949, Walter Chandoha—who had previously worked as a photographer for the Army during World War II—started to photograph shelter cats … and didn’t stop taking photos of cats for the next 70 years. This book pulls together his incredible images (which influenced Andy Warhol) in one place, and it’s a gift that any ailurophile/bibliophile will appreciate.

Buy it: Taschen

5. Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books; $24

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This tome, which features drool-worthy home libraries from history and around the world, will inspire (and possibly enable!) any book lover.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Cabinet of Natural Curiosities; $70

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This reprint of Albertus Seba’s prized natural history book weighs in at more than 10 pounds and features incredible, colorful illustrations that will delight lovers of the natural world.

Buy it: Taschen

7. The Photography of Game of Thrones; $43

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Pop culture aficionados who miss the fiery palace intrigue of Game of Thrones can revisit Westeros with this book of photos by set photographer Helen Sloan. Not only does the book provide gorgeous shots of the show and its iconic characters, but it also provides readers with a peek behind-the-scenes of Thrones. (The Night King doesn’t look so scary snapping a selfie, now does he?)

Buy it: Amazon

8. The NASA Archives. 60 Years in Space; $150

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Anyone who has dreamed of going to space will love this nearly 13-pound book, which includes more than 400 photos from NASA’s history, rare illustrations, and text by former NASA historian Roger Launius, Apollo historian Andrew Chaikin, and journalist Piers Bizony.

Buy it: Taschen

9. Dog People; $35

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Sandra Müller’s hilarious collection of photos of pups dressed as people is the perfect gift for any dog owner who’s constantly anthropomorphizing their pooch.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Patterns of India: A Journey Through Colors, Textiles, and the Vibrancy of Rajasthan; $22

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Brighten up the dull winter months with Christine Chitnis’s 288-page book that features more than 200 lush and bright photographs of life in Rajasthan, India. One reviewer called Patterns of India “an inspiring celebration of one of the most visually compelling and engaging destinations for travelers and photographers, where every detail, from the mundane to the sacred, is a divine expression of ancient and modern artisanal mastery.”

Buy it: Amazon

11. Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks; $23

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The perfect gift for the person who loves sipping a cocktail while listening to their favorite record, Booze & Vinyl has been billed as “the ultimate listening party guide.” The book is organized by mood and features 50 albums released from the 1950s to the 2000s. (Under Rock, for example, you’ll find The Clash’s London Calling, while Dance features Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster.) Each album is accompanied by notes and a cocktail recipe—Bjork’s Debut, for example, is paired with a cocktail called The Swan that originated at The Waldorf before Prohibition.

Buy it: Amazon

12. History as They Saw It: Iconic Moments from the Past in Color; $36

Chronicle Books/Amazon

The colorization of black and white videos and images might be somewhat controversial, but it’s undeniable that adding hues to our views of history can give us a new perspective. This book by Wolfgang Wild and Jordan Lloyd brings color to 120 photos of unforgettable historical events, including the building of the Eiffel Tower and the sinking of the Titanic, making it a beautiful gift for history buffs who wish they could travel back in time and see these scenes with their own eyes.

Buy it: Amazon

13. The Art of Looking Up; $20

White Lion Publishing/Amazon

In The Art of Looking Up, art historian Catherine McCormack gives the backgrounds and stories behind the most incredible ceilings around the globe. The book is split into four themes—Religion, Culture, Power, and Politics—and features incredible eye candy like the glass flowers that adorn the ceilings of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada; the intricately tiled ceiling of the Imam Mosque in Isfahan, Iran; and the stained-glass ceiling above the Toluca Botanical Gardens in Mexico.

Buy it: Amazon

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