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.

New Podcast Opens Up the Cold Case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Heist

Ryan McBride, AFP/Getty Images
Ryan McBride, AFP/Getty Images

One of the newest true crime podcasts gathering buzz doesn't involve a murder or kidnapping—instead, it investigates one of the most infamous art heists in history. Last Seen, a collaboration between WBUR and The Boston Globe, looks at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, a case that has gone unsolved for 28 years.

The story begins on March 18, 1990, when two thieves posing as policemen infiltrated the Boston art museum and stole 13 paintings off the walls. The works are from such master artists as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet, and are estimated to have a cumulative value exceeding $600 million.

The scope of the heist alone would have made it historically significant, but the story became even more interesting after the crime was committed. The case never moved forward, despite a drawn-out investigation and a $10 million reward for the return of the stolen pieces. That didn't mean there weren't suspects: Two unnamed men were identified, but they were killed shortly after the theft, and according to the popular theory, information regarding the location of the stolen artworks died with them.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case is still filled with mysteries, but the new podcast aims to make the story a little clearer. Hosted by WBUR producers and reporters Kelly Horan and Jack Rodolico, and with contributions from Stephen Kurkjian, who spent years covering the heist for The Boston Globe, Last Seen follows the saga from the night the crime was committed to today. It features interviews with investigators who worked on the case and people who were employed by the museum in the early 1990s, some of whom have never before agreed to speak publicly on the subject.

The first episode of Last Seen debuted on WBUR September 17, and the series will include 10 episodes in total.

10 Fun Facts About Play-Doh

iStock
iStock

As any Play-Doh aficionado knows, September 16th is National Play-Doh Day! Let's pay tribute to your favorite modeling clay with some fun facts about the childhood play staple that began life as a cleaning product.

1. IT WAS FIRST SOLD AS WALLPAPER CLEANER.

Before kids were playing with Play-Doh, their parents were using it to remove soot and dirt from their wall coverings by simply rolling the wad of goop across the surface.

2. IF IT WEREN'T FOR CAPTAIN KANGAROO, PLAY-DOH MIGHT NEVER HAVE TAKEN OFF.

When it was just a fledgling company with no advertising budget, inventor Joe McVicker talked his way in to visit Bob Keeshan, a.k.a. Captain Kangaroo. Although the company couldn’t pay the show outright, McVicker offered them two percent of Play-Doh sales for featuring the product once a week. Keeshan loved the compound and began featuring it three times weekly.

3. MORE THAN 3 BILLION CANS OF PLAY-DOH HAVE BEEN SOLD.

Since 1956, more than 3 billion cans of Play-Doh have been sold. That’s enough to reach the Moon and back a total of three times. (Not bad for a wallpaper cleaner.)

4. IT USED TO COME IN JUST ONE COLOR.

Photo of child's hands playing with Play-Doh clay
iStock

Back when it was still a household product, Play-Doh came in just one dud of a color: off-white. When it hit stores as a toy in the 1950s, red, blue, and yellow were added. These days, Play-Doh comes in nearly every color of the rainbow—more than 50 in total—but a consumer poll revealed that fans' favorite colors are Rose Red, Purple Paradise, Garden Green, and Blue Lagoon.

5. FOR QUITE SOME TIME, DR. TIEN LIU HAD A JOB SKILL NO ONE ELSE IN THE WORLD COULD CLAIM: PLAY-DOH EXPERT.

Dr. Tien Liu helped perfect the Play-Doh formula for the original company, Rainbow Crafts, and stayed on as a Play-Doh Expert when the modeling compound was purchased by Kenner and then Hasbro.

6. YOU CAN SMELL LIKE PLAY-DOH.

Want to smell like Play-Doh? You can! To commemorate the compound’s 50th anniversary, Demeter Fragrance Library worked with Hasbro to make a Play-Doh fragrance, which was developed for “highly-creative people, who seek a whimsical scent reminiscent of their childhood.”

7. HASBRO TRADEMARKED THE SCENT.

Anyone who has ever popped open a fresh can of Play-Doh knows that there’s something extremely distinctive about the smell. It’s so distinctive that, in early 2017, Hasbro filed for federal protection in order to trademark the scent, which the company describes as “a unique scent formed through the combination of a sweet, slightly musky, vanilla-like fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, and the natural smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.”

8. IT CAN CREATE A PRETTY ACCURATE FINGERPRINT.

When biometric scanners were a bit more primitive, people discovered that you could make a mold of a person’s finger, then squish Play-Doh in the mold to make a replica of the finger that would actually fool fingerprint scanners. Back in 2005, it was estimated that Play-Doh could actually fool 90 percent of all fingerprint scanners. But technology has advanced a lot since then, so don’t go getting any funny ideas. Today's more sophisticated systems aren’t so easily tricked by the doughy stuff.

9. IT HOLDS A PLACE IN THE NATIONAL TOY HALL OF FAME.

Unsurprisingly, Play-Doh holds a coveted place in the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. It was inducted in 1998. According to the Hall of Fame, “recent estimates say that kids have played with 700 million pounds of Play-Doh."

10. YOU CAN TURN YOUR PLAY-DOH CREATIONS INTO ANIMATED CHARACTERS.

While Play-Doh may be a classic toy, it got a state-of-the-art upgrade in 2016, when Hasbro launched Touch Shape to Life Studio, an app that lets kids turn their Play-Doh creations into animated characters.

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