Pop art prince. LGBTQ+ art pioneer. Prolific AIDS activist. Keith Haring was all of these things and so much more. In his 31 short years in this world, Haring saw more and achieved more than many. His legacy of more than an estimated 10,000 pieces of art lives on through his inspiration of today's artists, pop culture, and most importantly - jigsaw puzzles! But beyond the strong energetic lines and bold colours of his street art, which is celebrated in our brand new officially licensed jigsaw puzzle, who was the man behind the brush? Here are 10 fun facts about the revolutionary artist:
1) He was an activist from an early age.
Keith developed a love for drawing at a very early age, learning basic cartooning skills from his father and pop culture references Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney. High school taught Haring that he had little interest in becoming a commercial graphic designer and turned his gaze onto political activism. Around the time that Richard Nixon ran for president, a pre-teen Haring and his childhood friend, Kermit Oswald, began running around with bars of soap scribbling anti-Nixon slogans all over buildings in Kutztown, where ordinarily not a speck of graffiti could be seen. “People didn’t write on things that didn’t belong to them,” said Oswald.
Paying tribute to the American artist’s talent and creativity, this limited edition 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle features Haring’s love of bold colour and illustrations.
2) All his sibling’s names also started with the letter ‘K.’
Keith Haring was 'Keeping Up' 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. Just like Haring, you too can invite around some dinner companions to help complete this gorgeous puzzle!
3) Keith got arrested for his street art countless times.
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.
He used chalk as his medium, stating that he didn’t want to appropriate the work of existing graffiti artists — especially those of colour — by using spray paints.
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 realised, 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.
“Haring didn’t paint for money, he did it as a mark of friendship, and out of love.” We recommend puzzling as another great way to build friendships and express love!
The iconic gay artist’s pop art designs were influenced by 1980s culture in New York and started out as graffiti on the walls of the city’s subway. Rest In Pieces is proud to present the Keith Haring puzzle showcasing a collection of works, artefacts and illustrations of the legendary artist.
4) He befriended 'the most famous girl in the world' 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."
As soon as Haring’s art became known and celebrated around the world, the celebrities and party invitations followed. He was known for rubbing elbows with some of the hottest artists and stars of the time including Andy Warhol, Brooke Shields, and Boy George, which irked some of Haring’s oldest and closest friends who felt he was snubbing them for people he barely knew. But his closest friends particularly disliked one of his new buddies, a blonde and little-known singer (at the time) named Madonna. “They didn’t take to Madonna — it’s like ‘Who is this trashy white girl who can’t sing?'” recalled Straub.
Living and working in the East Village in New York, Keith Haring had a large social circle, which included many artists and performers who were part of the same underground art scene. This included people such as Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and he frequently worked with them. With growing recognition and popularity, his collaborations expanded to involve other artists, musicians and fashion designers, such as Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Haring’s collaboration with Grace Jones innovatively combined art and fashion. He painted Grace Jones’ body with his graffiti for music performances and also featured in her music video I'm Not Perfect (But I'm Perfect For You).
Haring formed a close friendship with Madonna and, when he was invited to her wedding, he took Andy Warhol as his plus one. Perhaps when you're done with our new Keith Haring jigsaw puzzle you too might consider completing our Andy Warhol one? 😉
The recognisable eye-catching cartoonish illustrations are celebrated in the Keith Haring jigsaw puzzle artwork.
5) Drugs influenced his art.
As his career was soaring, Haring continued to party hard at nightclubs across New York. One of them was the Paradise Garage. Friend and roommate Drew Straub described the venue as a “big gay disco” that had the “greatest sound system ever known to man.” But since no alcohol was served there, many at the club took drugs instead, Straub said. For Haring, the drugs — particularly hallucinogens — fuelled and inspired his work. “A lot of Keith’s ‘vibrations’ around everything that he drew was kind of psychedelic,” noted Straub.
But why rely on drugs when jigsaw puzzles can put your mind into a relaxed, meditative state?
6) Keith opened his own Pop Shop to make his art accessible to everyone, not just art collectors.
Haring consistently operated under a powerful personal statement, “The public has a right to art”—a mindset that has maintained relevancy. Keith Haring says every audience member is an artist because they create the meaning of a piece of art. Drawn to the participatory nature of contemporary art, Haring devoted his career to creating truly public art. 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.” In the 21st century we now take artist collaborations for granted, but back in the 1980s, Haring’s heyday, it was a decidedly fresh idea. Haring is very much in the vanguard of this art-as-product, art-for-everyone movement. Our Keith Haring jigsaw puzzles are merely an extension of this legacy.
7) His AIDS diagnosis inspired his artwork and activism.
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. He was a true visionary who used his talent for purpose. While he sadly passed away during the height of the epidemic, his iconic art and philanthropy lives on.
Eurographics has teamed up with the Keith Haring design studio to showcase his legendary street art and iconic shapes on the 1000-piece art jigsaw puzzle.
8) The world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle features Keith Haring’s art.
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.
9) His work spread important social and political messages.
Although his artworks were always colourful and animated, Haring tackled some hard-hitting and challenging subjects concerning people, not just in America but, around the world. Haring used catchy slogans to quickly and effectively make his point. One of his most famous examples is the Crack is Wack mural referring to the crack cocaine epidemic and its effects in New York City. The work was made large enough so that passing cars on the nearby roads would be able to see it.
In 1986 Haring was invited to paint on a section of the Berlin Wall, in an attempt to ‘destroy the wall through painting it’. He painted a bright figurative mural using the colours of the German flag, symbolising the hope of unity between East and West Germany. The work was destroyed in 1989 when the wall was demolished. In 1987 he wrote in his diary
“If it is not regarded as ‘sacred’ and ‘valuable’, then I can paint without inhibition, and experience the interaction of lines and shapes. I can paint spontaneously without worrying if it looks ‘good’; and I can let my movement and my instant reaction/response control the piece, control my energy (if there is any control at all) … It is temporary and its permanency is unimportant. Its existence is already established. It can be made permanent by the camera.”
10) Haring brought fun and colour to the community.
Haring loved working with children, admiring their imagination, sense of humour, lack of prejudice and encouraged young people to get together to collaboratively create their own artwork. In 1986 Haring painted a mural with 900 young people to celebrate the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary. It was displayed on the Liberty Tower in Battery Park City.
Haring often collaborated with charities aimed at young people, and he painted murals in lots of children’s hospitals, including the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris.
“I found out that I can make any kid smile. It’s probably from having a funny face to begin with – and looking and acting like a kid. And kids can relate to my drawings, because of the simple lines.” - Keith Haring
Haring had a fun way of working which reflected the content of his work. He often listened to hip-hop music whilst working and painted rhythmic lines to express the movement and energy, which is recognisable in so many of his works. He painted on vinyl tarpaulin, a material often laid on the street and used by break dancers as a surface for their performances.
“He was so much fun – I think people forget that. He used to paint one stroke at a time to the rhythm of whatever he was listening to.”
Kenny Scharf, artist and friend of Keith Haring
And like we've said before, what better way to collaborate and have fun with others than over a Keith Haring jigsaw puzzle? 🧩