Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing: Review

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing
by Kay A. Haring, text; Robert Neubecker, illustrations
Penguin Young Readers Group

Reviewed by Hank Trout

Kay A. Haring, Keith Haring’s younger sister, has written a biography of the world-renowned artist for young readers (ages five to eight) that will, I’m sure, enrich many an adult’s library as well. It has enriched mine.

Haring’s father taught him how to draw. Together, they drew images that would reverberate throughout Haring’s career: dogs, fish, funny-looking characters. The young Haring never stopped drawing. In elementary school, he doodled in the margins of test papers; he had a clubhouse in his backyard where he often invited his friends to draw with him. When his mother admonished the teenaged Haring to go outside to ride his bicycle, he had to admit that he had sold his bike to buy art supplies.

After graduating high school in 1976, Haring entered the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but quickly realized he had no interest in becoming a commercial illustrator. It was in Pittsburgh, though, that Haring first saw young kids break-dancing in the streets, which gave shape and form to many of his drawings of twisted human forms. From Pittsburgh he moved to New York City and attended the School of Visual Arts. New York became not only his inspiration but his canvas—he drew on subway walls, on paper taped to telephone poles, on nearly any flat surface he could find. He graduated to large-scale murals, museum and gallery shows, and a reputation as one of the most beloved and most prolific artists of the late twentieth century, creating iconic images (the “radiant” baby; the dancing figures; the barking dogs) that remain as fresh and vibrant as when they were new. Nearly forty of those images are scattered throughout the book, woven into the colorful, exuberant illustrations by Mr. Neubecker.

The main text does not mention Haring’s death from AIDS-related complications. However, an extended author’s note at the end of the book does. It also details the work of the Keith Haring Foundation, set up to benefit AIDS organizations and children’s groups. The book was released on February 14, 2017, almost twenty-seven years to the date after Haring died on February 16, 1990. This boldly illustrated book will serve as an excellent child’s introduction to the iconic pop artist, the boy who, no matter what, just kept drawing.

Hank Trout edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-six-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. In addition to serving as an Editor at Large of A&U, he also writes the column, For the Long Run. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.