Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990. In a discussion some time after Keith’s diagnosis with AIDS, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, an artist, writer, and friend of Keith Haring, asked Keith “Is there anything that doesn’t die?” to which Keith responded, “I don’t believe anything dies. It all goes in circles.”
Tullio recounts this conversation in his article, “Through art, Haring confronted death,” which appeared in the Eagle Times, February 1990, written on the occasion of Keith’s death. You can read the full article below, which reveals a touching and intimate account of a human being confronting their mortality.
“I’m trying as hard as I can to make some sense out of all this madness. My life, my misguided love, my friends, suffering, pain, and little bursts of sanity. It’s got to get better, I think, but it only seems to get worse. How long can it go on? And who am I to question it? It’s not even a question of understanding anymore, but accepting. I accept my fate, I accept my life. I accept my shortcomings, I accept the struggle. I accept my inability to understand. I accept what I will never become and what I will never have. I accept death and I accept life. I have no profound realizations — it is blind acceptance and some kind of faith. I am becoming numb to all of this, which is in a way even more frightening. Nothing even surprises or shocks me anymore. I am becoming very hard on the outside and even softer on the inside. I have to get through this. All of this and my own life, too.”
–Keith Haring, Journals, February 15, 1989
Keith Haring died from AIDS-related complications thirty years ago, on February 16, 1990. Though struggling to make sense of the world he lived in, Keith continued to create until shortly before his death, using art as a way of maintaining hope.
One of the last works he created was a bronze altarpiece, cast in an edition of nine, one of which can be visited at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.
“I accept my fate, I accept my life. I accept my shortcomings, I accept the struggle. I accept my inability to understand. I accept what I will never become and what I will never have. I accept death and I accept life. I have no profound realizations — it is blind acceptance and some kind of faith.”
Keith Haring worked obsessively until his death on February 16, 1990. This mural, painted in 1989 on the wall of the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate in Pisa, is affectionally known as “Tuttomondo” – or “All the World” – and was the last public work he created. The mural still exists today.
Keith Haring was an activist as well as an artist, creating posters, murals, logos, pins, etc., for causes as wide-ranging as anti-littering and literacy outreach, to AIDS awareness and anti-Apartheid.
His fine artwork also directly addressed social concerns; sometimes using humor, as in the collages he created from New York Post headlines that he Xeroxed and posted around the city; and sometimes illustrating the brutality of the system, such as in Michael Stewart – USA for Africa, a response to the killing of the young graffiti artist Michael Stewart.
Keith occaisionally struggled with feelings of hopelessness in the face bigotry and corruption, but still he fought on however he was able. Before his death on this date in 1990, he established the Keith Haring Foundation so that it could continue the work he began.
“We go forward, we have the means, but we’re still in the same situation. And we still fightin’.