Keith Haring died from AIDS related complications on Feb 16, 1990 when he was just 31 years old. Though best known for his popular images of radiant babies and barking dogs, Keith also worked in artistic capacities reflecting his generous and socially engaged spirit, such as hosting workshops for children, creating murals for hospitals, and participating in demonstrations and protests in the fight for justice and equity.
An example of such a work is the mural he painted at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, NY in 1986 as a gift to the hospital for its dedication to healthcare access during the HIV/AIDS crisis. This mural still exists today and can be visited by the general public.
The Life of Christ (1990), a bronze and white-gold triptych altarpiece, is among the last works made by Keith Haring, completed just weeks before his death from AIDS related complications on February 16th, 1990. In his inimitable and exuberant style, the altarpiece is crowded with angels and human figures, whose outstretched limbs lead the eye to the central figure of Christ, and functions as a tribute to those who have lost their lives due to AIDS.
The altarpiece was made in an edition of nine, which can be found in collections across the world, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where Keith’s memorial service was held on May 4th, 1990.
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’.