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Keith Haring, ‘Unfinished Painting’: Meaning, Analysis & Facts

Art is something that you either love or don’t, but for those who adore art, every piece truly tells a story. These stories come from the painters and artists who are behind each of the art pieces you can view today.

Throughout history, art has been a way for people to express themselves in many different ways. Just look at Keith Haring, who was known for having quite a diverse range of media forms, from newspaper cutouts to abstract paintings, and, of course, that famous unfinished painting.

While we already know a few things about Keith Haring, a lot are still asked about the ‘Unfinished painting’ that he never seemed to finish. Let’s take a look at what it is and what this painting could mean.

Who Was Keith Haring?

Before we take a deeper dive into the Unfinished Painting, let’s take a moment to consider who Keith Haring was. He was an artist that actually became quite popular for his work during the 1980s. While Haring already experimented with art before this time, it was in these years that he started to rise to fame.

Haring was born in 1958. Even before Haring was a teenager, he became an activist. He was seen writing slogans on buildings using bars of soap. The main goal of his campaigns was to spread awareness of AIDS among people. This is quite ironic, considering the fact that years later, he was diagnosed with AIDS himself – and that led to his death.

Haring was really into cartoons, particularly due to the fact that his father made cartoons. However, while he had a love for cartoons, in his mind, he kept them separate from art.

Things you didn’t know about Keith Haring’s ‘Unfinished Painting’

Keith Haring, 'Unfinished Painting': Meaning, Analysis & Facts

If you’re an enthusiast of art, you’ve likely at least heard of the Unfinished Painting before. Keith Haring’s ‘Unfinished Painting’ is a poignant and powerful piece of art. That’s actually one of the final pieces that Haring produced, and you can clearly see that the painting looks like it still needs some work done.

Now, if you take a closer look at it, within Haring’s ‘Unfinished Painting’ lies an emotionally charged and compelling artistic expression intimately intertwined with the artist’s own battles.

Well, here’s the thing. In 1987, Haring was diagnosed with AIDS. This was the disease that he had been protesting against for many years. He tried to spread awareness of AIDS, but in the end, he was diagnosed with this very disease.

After being diagnosed with AIDS, Haring came forth and talked about the issue. He mentioned that he wanted to live until 50. He wanted to see what he could accomplish by then, focusing on all of the work he had done in just one decade. However, things didn’t turn out well for Haring, and AIDS started to take a toll on him rather quickly.

In 1989, the Keith Haring Foundation was founded. Haring found it as a way to continue circulating his artwork even after he passed away – with the hopes that it could gain enough traction to offer help to children who are in need. The Keith Haring Foundation also focuses on providing grants to people who are affected by AIDS.

Just one year later, in February 1990, Haring passed away, and AIDS was responsible for this. He left one final legacy – ‘The Unfinished Painting’. He officially named this painting even before passing, and many people suggest that the reason for not completing the painting was simple – it was a reminder not only of his life but also the fact that his time on Earth was cut short by AIDS.

What is the Meaning of the Unfinished Painting by Keith Haring?

The Unfinished painting was made in 1989, just a year before the artist’s untimely death from AIDS-related complications in 1990. Haring created this piece during a period of profound personal turmoil, which significantly impacted the artwork’s themes and meaning.

The title of the artwork, ‘Unfinished Painting,’ carries both a literal and figurative meaning. The work itself appears incomplete, with white spaces and unfinished elements, reflecting Haring’s life tragically cut short by AIDS. This incompleteness may serve as a poignant commentary on the unfinished story of his life.

So the Unfinished Painting by Keith Haring seems to have been left so on purpose. Haring died of AIDS in the year 1990, but according to several sources, the painting was actually finished by the time he died. He often talked about what could be achieved in a lifetime, citing that he wanted to live until at least 50. Yet, at the age of 31, he passed away. It does seem like prior to his death, he had already named the painting and left it as it is now, on purpose.

So, Where is Keith Haring’s Unfinished painting?

Today, this painting print can be seen in the Los Angeles County Museum. Several institutions have reported on the painting and its meaning, including the Smithsonian Institute.

Amna El Tawil is a professional journalist, reporter, and an Amazon published author living in Cairo, Egypt. She graduated from MIU with a journalism degree and later worked as a reporter and content writer at various news publications. Amna's works have appeared in the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), the International Herald Tribune, Thomson Reuters, and the BBC. Amna loves researching and has also authored several books on Amazon.