Go Cross-Country with Keith Haring

By Jelena Martinovic on December 3, 2018

During his tragically short but prolific artistic career, Keith Haring left a deep mark on the world of contemporary art, inspiring generations of future artists. After arriving in New York in 1978, Haring immersed himself in its downtown culture, quickly becoming a fixture in the vibrant dance club and street art scene. He became known for the recognizable style of bold lines and bright colors, as well as the unique energy and optimism of his art.

Strongly believing that art should belong to the community, Haring devoted his practice to themes of social justice and constant transformation. He expressed strong views through his unique and symbolic visual language, raising awareness of a number of pressing issues of the time. Pushing throughout his career to make art accessible to all, he often chose to work directly with and within public space. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, Haring spent his later years focusing on creating images for AIDS and children's programs.

The artist died in 1990 of AIDS-related complications, at the age of 31. His spirit lives on through his artworks, which can still be found publicly throughout the world. These pieces remain a lasting reminder of Haring’s legacy and political activism. In the United States, out of a total of 28 murals the artist created in his lifetime, there are 12 still standing that you can go see.

Pasadena Mural at the Art Center College of Design

Created in December 1989, the mural at the Art Center College of Design serves as a permanent memorial to members of the art community lost to AIDS, as well as a symbol of hope and compassion. Painted by Haring over the course of two days to commemorate the second annual World AIDS Day and part of the first ever Day Without Art, the mural was displayed in conjunction with the artist’s talk at the college. Covering a large wall across from the Fogg Library entrance, it has become a centerpiece of daily life at the Art Center and a testament to Haring’s commitment to public art as a tool for encouraging a wider social dialogue. It was also one of the last public murals he did, as he died only two months later.

The mural is located at 1700 Lida Street, Pasadena, CA 91103.

Ernest Horn Elementary

When visiting Iowa City in 1989, Haring spoke at the Museum of Art. At the invitation of art teacher Collen Ernst, he painted a large and vibrant mural at Ernest Horn Elementary. The wall shows an open book which the artist himself described as “a book full of fun,” populated by a range of imaginary, bold characters painted in his trademark primary colors. The mural was created in conjunction with a drawing workshop for the kids.

The mural is located at 600 Koser Avenue, Iowa City, IA 52246 USA.

Rush Presbyterian-St Luke’s Medical Center

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is home to two murals by Haring, who painted them during a visit in May, 1989. Made in the fourth floor atrium of the hospital, murals were painted for and donated to the Children’s Service. While the first mural, located in the bustling fourth-floor atrium, features black-and-white figures of all shapes and sizes surrounding a red heart, the other one, situated near a walkway that connects buildings along Harrison Street and Congress Parkway, is populated by colorful animals, television sets and astronauts which wave and smile at passersby. In the June 1989 issue of Rush’s newsletter, NewsRounds, Haring said, “I could earn a lot more money by only painting and selling canvases, but I really enjoy creating murals for children.”

The mural is located at 1653 West Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL 60612.

We The Youth: City Kids of Philadelphia and NYC

Covering the west face of a private rowhouse in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia, the 1987 mural “We The Youth” is the only Keith Haring collaborative public piece remaining intact and on its original site. It was made with assistance from kids from both New York and Philadelphia and a few local artists on the occasion of the bicentennial of the United States Constitution. Featuring his lyrical dancing characters created in primary colors, the mural is quintessential Keith Haring. It fully captures the energy and spirit which emanates from his artistic vision. Although the work was meant to be only temporary, it continues to hold its ground after over three decades as a hidden and under-publicized gem of the city. It was restored in 2013 by Mural Arts Philadelphia in collaboration with the Keith Haring Foundation.

The mural is located at 1114 South 22nd Street Philadelphia, PA 19146.

Children's Village

In June 1985, Haring made a mural at the Children's Village orphanage in the Boy/Adult Dining Room called Ecker Hall in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The primary-colored acrylic painted mural depicts his signature “radiant” children, dancing men and barking dogs, cavorting joyfully. It was taken down in 1994 to make way for a medical clinic carrying the artist’s name, but it was preserved and relocated to the clinic lobby.

The mural is located at 1 Echo Hills, Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522.

Grace House Ascension School

During one Saturday evening, most likely in 1984, Haring painted a mural along two flights of stairs at the Grace House in the presence of 50 children who were staying there for a retreat. The mural is like a lexicon of his vocabulary; it begins in the lobby with one of his signature vibrating babies, continuing with his distinct simple figures, dancing, posing slipping and jumping. And there are the familiar motifs such as a barking dog. In 2009, the Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension took over the five-story building, but the mural is still available for viewing by appointment.

The mural is located at 218 West 108th Street, New York, NY 10025.

Crack is Wack

Made on a handball court in East Harlem, the now legendary “Crack is Wack” mural was inspired by the crack epidemic and its effect on New York City. At the time, the artist’s assistant Benny was also struggling to curb his addiction without insurance and hospital assistance. The artist explained that “seeing the slow reaction of the government” to the epidemic, he decided he had to do “an anti-crack painting”. The mural was created independently, without the city’s permission, but due to its national publicity, he got away with only a $100 fine, and a slap on the wrist. After it was defaced and then painted over, the city asked him to recreate it again, taking responsibility for its protection and preservation.

The mural is located at Harlem River Dr, New York, NY 10035.

Schneider Children's Hospital

The opening of the Schneider Children’s Hospital in New York in 1983 was a battle for Dr. Philip Lanzkowsky, the executive director and chief of staff, as critics initially wondered whether a hospital devoted solely to children’s care was viable. As Dr. Lanzkowsky tried to make the hospital as inviting as possible, a 22-foot-high sculpture by Keith Haring, alongside a sculpture by Niki de St. Phalle, was installed on the lawn in front of the hospital. In conjunction with the installation of the sculpture, Keith Haring organized a children’s workshop and created a mural on the second floor walls overlooking the atrium. The mural features a range of distinctively simplified, but lively characters outlined in black.

The mural is located at 26901 76th Ave New Hyde Park, New York 11040.

"Once Upon a Time" at the Gay and Lesbian Center mural

Located in the second floor men’s bathroom at the Gay and Lesbian Center in New York, the mural “Once Upon a Time” is a grandiose and unapologetic celebration of gay sexuality. Created in May 1989 as part of the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Stonewalls Riots, which included 50 artists painting the interior walls of the Center, it covers four interior walls of the bathroom, surrounding the viewer. Featuring line drawings of penises, fluids, babies and bodies morphing into one another, it was an homage to the more carefree days of the gay community before the AIDS crisis ravaged it. The mural was restored and conserved in 2014.

The mural is located at 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011.

Carmine St Mural

Located at what was once known as the Carmine Street Pool and is now the New York City Parks and Recreation public swimming pool, the 170-foot long mural covers the entire length of the wall which divides the pool area and the James J. Walker Park handball court.Created on one hot summer day in August of 1987, the blue and yellow mural, which takes its cue from the hues of the pool’s underwater surfacing, features happy human figures playing with bright mermaids, dolphins and other aquatic creatures. The mural was conserved in 1997 by the Haring Foundation.

The mural is located at 1 Clarkson Street, New York, NY 10014.

Woodhull Hospital

Painted in 1986, the 700-foot-long mural at the Woodhull Hospital was Haring’s gift for the hospital’s dedication to pediatric AIDS research and treatment. When proposing the work, the artist himself explained it would be “positive, uplifting, unaggressive, imaginative, and comforting.” Haring completed the work over the course of three days, all the while signing autographs and making drawings for passers-by during his breaks. Located in the lobby of the outpatient unit, it features the artist’s iconic dancing figures in bright, primary colors. A welcome sight at the hospital, it continues to brighten the days of thousands of patients and their families.

The mural is located at 760 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11206.

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