Keith Haring: Artist and AIDS Activist

Although AIDS Garden Chicago won't open in Belmont Harbor until 2020, its giant Keith Haring sculpture is in place for World AIDS Day—December 1.

At 30 feet tall, "Self-Portrait" is the largest version of the familiar Haring figure. The piece practically vibrates with joy, movement and strength—a fitting tribute to the AIDS activists who in the 1980s and 1990s fought to raise awareness and funds for the HIV/AIDS crisis, which claimed the lives of many gay men, among others. 

Haring was a visual artist, sculptor, muralist and AIDS activist who first made his mark with chalk drawings in New York City subways. Although only 31 when he died of AIDS, he was already an immensely popular, widely exhibited artist "whose images could be found as often on T-shirts as in museums." 

An excellent introduction to his life and work is Keith Haring,1958-1990. This gorgeous book is an explosion of color that encompasses everything from Haring's early subway drawings to his exuberant, comics-inspired work and his AIDS awareness posters ("Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death").   

A more intimate portrait of the artist is Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, which consists of interviews with Haring, his family and his fellow artists, among others. I especially enjoyed learning about the many mediums Haring worked in, his anti-crack mural "Crack is Wack" and his thoughts on the enormous mural he created with 500 Chicago Public School students

One of Haring's recurrent, iconic images is the “radiant baby,” often pictured crawling and with a halo of rays. Many of these images appear in Babies, a charming, pocket-sized book by the man who considered babies “the purest and most positive experience of human existence.” Similarly delightful are Love and Dogs.


For Haring aficionados there's Keith Haring Journals with a foreword by artist David Hockney. "His short life seemed absolutely busy," Hockney writes of Haring, who had a tremendous work ethic. "He left his mark everywhere."

To learn more about HIV/AIDS, explore our lists Books for World AIDS Day and After and Movies about HIV/AIDS.

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