You are here
Home > News > Keith Haring Remembered in Glass Art Collection

Keith Haring Remembered in Glass Art Collection

Social activism was built into the art of Keith Haring—one of the most widely recognized modern artists of our time. From promoting AIDS awareness to being vocally against apartheid and other issues, Haring’s art nearly always carried a message.

Haring rose from “street art”—courteously drawing with chalk instead of paint on New York subway cars, to producing art that auctions off for millions of dollars. Haring’s 1982 Untitled, for instance, auctioned for $6,537,500 at Sotheby’s New York in 2017. It’s the dream of any aspiring artist.

The Keith Haring Foundation partnered with Greenlane Holdings and retailer Higher Standards to unveil the K.Haring Glass Collection—with functional art depicting some of Haring’s iconic figures and designs. A glass art collaboration was logical because Haring believed cannabis was very important. According to some of his close associates,

“I think that what we try to do with our licensing program is we try to tell different stories about Keith,” said Gil Vazquez, executive director of the Keith Haring Foundation based in New York City. “We thought of this collaboration as a way to tell the story about Keith as a weed smoker and as someone who partook in smoking weed as part of his life.”

So yes, Haring not only smoked cannabis—he preferred it. But as a workaholic, Haring knew how to time his indulgences in a way that didn’t slow down his output of art.

Vazquez continued, “He would very often smoke after he painted, never before. After he had finished painting, he would light up to admire the artwork for a bit. Truth be told—it was kind of a therapy for him as well.”

Vazquez, who is also a producer and DJ, was a very close friend and confidante of Haring—frequently speaking at events such as World AIDS Day. He founded the Keith Haring Foundation to protect and expand Keith Haring’s legacy and work. 

The Keith Haring Foundation

Keith Haring is who?

Haring was born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania to parents who described themselves as “disciplinarians.” His father Allen Haring was an amateur cartoonist. 

Haring demonstrated promise early in his career as an artist. As a teenager, Haring made T-shirts featuring anti-Nixon slogans or Deadhead-inspired art.

Haring’s first solo show of art was at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center in 1978. One day, Haring was nearby and noticed a piece of paper on the floor that read, “God is a dog.” The other side of the paper read, “Jesus is a Monkey.” Haring said that he can’t explain why, but it triggered what he described as a punk rock attitude inside of him. He was certain he must go to New York.

Haring made the move from Pennsylvania to New York in that year, to attend School of Visual Arts. He made many close friends in New York with the future icons Jean-Michel Basquiat and Madonna. At the same, he was immersed in hip-hop and punk music subcultures.

Haring hung around at places like Club 57, at St. Mark’s Place, in the basement of a Polish church, which evolved into his hangout, where he could do whatever he wanted. 

On his own, he noticed empty black spaces on the subway—that seemed like they were beckoning him to draw on. Then he took out some chalk to start drawing. He began to notice negative spaces. It’s what some artists call Horror vacui, Latin for the fear of empty space—meaning a compulsion to fill open spaces with drawings and patterns.

“The street was a very important inspiration for Keith,” says Vazquez. “The subway drawings were a way to get art to the people—people that wouldn’t go to galleries and museums on their own. This was because he saw these empty advertising spaces as a great way to express something. To draw something very quickly with chalk—parallel to what was going on at the time, which was graffiti, using spray paint directly on subway cars. That was his source of inspiration. [scene].”

Like most other artists inspired by the street, he wasn’t always accepted. “Early on, he was viewed quite suspiciously by the graffiti writers at the time,” Vazquez said. They respected him until he won their trust. He got up and did what he could to earn their respect. His visual language was quite simple compared to the wildstyle of the day.”

“They had to respect how ubiquitous it was. He could be seen at every station of every borough. In galleries, he did other things as well. He was an unstoppable, tireless worker. I think the street was a huge inspiration for what he did and how he went about his business.”

Vazquez refers to Haring being a magnet for music and arts leaders like Basqiuat, Fab 5 Freddy and others. “He really attracted like minded people and various kinds of energy,” Vazquez says. “[Fab 5]Freddy was one such person who served as a link between downtown and uptown. Keith really made his home in Manhattan. There was a lot of fusion in the 1980s between people from different backgrounds. Punk culture was blending with hip-hop culture. This was a very unique period, as these movements were still in their infancy. The people who were dictating hip-hop and punk rock were 14-year-old kids.”

Haring’s canvas was wherever he felt like—be it subway cars or blank advertising spaces. Haring’s unique talent was to use minimalism and a childlike attitude in his artwork. Haring’s dancing characters seemed to be able to reach a primordial place with the help of petroglyphs such as Kokopelli and trickster coyote. Haring was often taken into custody, although he was known to use chalk. Cops didn’t understand his style and let him go.

Haring later began to print designs on buttons. Haring was fascinated by reprinting popular art images over and over. Haring made subway art for many years before the media took notice.

Four years after arriving in New York City, Haring’s first major exhibition attracted Andy Warhol, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Sol LeWitt.

Haring worked with fashion designer VivienneWestwood. Westwood made textiles from a collection Westwood had created using new drawings for her Fall/Winter 1983-1984 Witches Collection. Haring’s friend from his New York circle, Madonna, wore a skirt from the collection, most notably in the music video for her 1984 song “Borderline.” (To this day, Madonna remembers her friend Haring on World AIDS Day on Instagram.)

It was around that point that Haring blew up—and he blew up in a big way. Haring appeared in the February 1984 issue. Vanity FairAs well as the October 1984 issue Newsweek.

Activism in pressing social issues was at the core of Haring’s work. Haring participated in over 100 group and solo exhibitions, and created more than 50 mural-like public art pieces.

“He would very often smoke [cannabis]Never before had he ever smoked after painting. After he had painted, he would light up and look at his paintings. Truth be told—it was kind of a therapy for him as well.” – Gil Vazquez

Keith Haring up Close

Haring was in a complicated relationship with drugs and eventually opened his heart to the possibility of pursuing a career as sexologist. Rolling StoneIn one of his last major interviews at the age 16 about his experience with psychedelics, Haring spoke candidly. “ …I remember that all the anti-drug things on television at the time only made me want to do them more,” Haring told Rolling Stone. As a teen, he said he’d come home “stoned out of my mind.”

But when crack cocaine became an obvious detriment to American society in the early ‘80s, Haring sprung into action. Haring’s friends mention that he tried nearly every drug, but obviously he could recognize which drugs should be avoided. Haring lost many friends due to overdoses.

“Crack is Wack,” one of his most recognized murals, which appeared in 1986 on the handball court at 128th Street and 2nd Avenue, was inspired by the crack epidemic and its effect on New York City.

“People take ‘Crack is Wack’ and sort of take that as a blanket to say that Keith was anti-drug,” Vazquez said. “But the reality was a bit more complex than that. “Keith probably has tried every drug up until that point,” Vazquez said. “His go-to was cannabis. I think the collab is a clever nod to Keith’s weed use and his advocacy for it. Even at the time, it was underground, if you got caught with any of it, you’d be fined.”

In June 1986, he created a banner with the help of children to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Statue of Liberty’s arrival in America. Later that year, he painted on the Berlin Wall—just as the Iron Curtain was beginning to crack in Germany. Haring had become one of the most well-known artists around the globe by then.

By the mid-80s, Haring’s circle of friends—many of whom were gay—were “dropping like flies.” Drugs that keep people with HIV alive simply were several years away from being developed. 

Others died from drug abuse or another cause. Haring wrote the obituary of Basquiat’s death in 1988. Vogue magazine. Warhol also died a year before.

After Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, he simply started producing art at a faster rate—knowing his art would outlast him. “I cannot ever think of a time that I heard him complain about being sick, about his condition,” Vazquez asserted. “He was very stoic about continuing to work and really being adamant that he had so much to do. I think that weed helped him through it.” 

It was difficult for doctors to fight AIDS back in 1990. Antiretrovirals—drugs that now control HIV very well—hadn’t been developed, for the most part. 

“He got the best of everything, including weed,” Vazquez said. “He’d have the top of the top quality that you could get in New York. At the time, I wasn’t a smoker myself. So I didn’t participate, but I was always around, and saw the copious amounts of cannabis that he’d have around. He would share with his friends.”

Vazquez admits that he could picture Haring joining the medical cannabis movement, had he survived AIDS, given the artist’s long history with pressing social issues. HIV is a driving force in the medical marijuana movement.

“So much has happened [since then],” Vazquez said. “The attitude of the country has evolved since when Keith was alive. It was so quiet and undercover. There were many who smoked cannabis but kept the information secret. My goodness, I’m sure he would have been at the forefront of championing the legalization of cannabis as medicinal as it did help him. I’m sure if he were alive, he’d be an advocate.”

His remaining time was less than 2 years after the diagnosis. His journals indicate that he didn’t know if he had five months or five years left. Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1990 and died from complications.

“Today people are able to live a fairly decent lifestyle compared to back then,” Vazquez said. “If we always lament how the advances in medicine just didn’t come soon enough for Keith to take advantage.”

In 2019, he was one of the inaugural 50 American “pioneers, trailblazers and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument in New York City’s Stonewall Inn.

The Keith Haring Foundation

Legacy and Glass Goods

The K.Haring Glass Collection is just one of many ways to keep Haring’s memory alive.

The K.Haring Spoon is a durable, borosilicate-glass pipe with hammer design. It is housed in a box with durable walls and foam inserts, the packaging is embellished with Haring’s signature and artistry. K.Haring Bubbler features an 8-slit percolator showerhead and a large fixed bowl and downstem.

K.Haring Water Pipe features a beaker style with 7-Slit Showerhead Percolator and Thick Borosilicate Glass. It also has Ground Glass Connection and Ice Catcher. Dabbers would be more drawn to the K. Haring Rig, 90° downstem, turbine percolator, UFO-style directional carb cap, flared bucket and built-in splash guard. 

You can also check out Tasters. Trays. Catchalls.

Haring—at least in my opinion—ranks among the other “greats” who we lost to AIDS, including Freddie Mercury, Eazy E, Ryan White and Anthony Perkins.