NARRATOR: Keith Haring’s animated pop style is instantly familiar to people around the world. Dancing figures like these—outlined in black and encircled by vibrating lines —were a Haring signature. He made this painting in 1985, when the American government refused to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic devastating the gay population. The red X’s on these figures’ heads indicate that they are HIV-positive. As an openly gay man, Haring worked to promote AIDS awareness. Here he has created a kind of public service message that is bold, vibrant, and unmistakably clear: safe sex is sexy.

Haring’s work was inspired by the graffiti he saw everywhere when he first moved to New York City in 1978. He recalled, “The kids who were doing it . . . had this incredible mastery of drawing which totally blew me away. . . . the fluidity of line, and the scale, and always the hard-edged black line that tied the drawings together!” The artist developed his own graffiti style, creating a set of personal symbols—flying saucers, crawling babies, and barking dogs. By the time he made this painting, his work had become more political, and he worked with numerous activist organizations to fight the AIDS crisis.


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