There’s always been a tension between the childlike DayGlo images of Keith Haring and the artist’s transgressive, libido-friendly, street-art-scrawling queer politics. Is Haring’s art meant for children or adults? Well, both, really—depending. As the politically charged 1980s recede from memory, the specific political stakes of his art likewise fade; in our post-Internet age it might be the case that your tween niece or nephew isn’t all that discomfited by the cartoonish image of a spurting penis anyway. It’s emblematic of Haring’s art (and marketing savvy) that the most famous image of the era’s most famous gay artist depicts an adorable crawling infant (actual title: “Radiant Baby”).
In any case, in most of his catalogue the two sides, the innocent and the profane, operate together. As a world-famous artist, Haring had an acute understanding of context, and he knew perfectly well when to retract his scarier tendencies and when to let them frolic, as in the decidedly NSFW images he used in his public work at the LGBT Center on 13th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, as an example. And in some venues, Haring also knew how to keep it clean and even—egad—kid-friendly.
Haring’s coloring books are a case in point. Any one of us can go to Amazon and purchase The Keith Haring Coloring Book and we’d still have enough left over from a $10 bill left over for a slice and a soda (if you happen to live in Haring’s hometown, that is). I haven’t seen the inside of that product, but based on the cover it’s very likely that that book started out as a private project, self-published in small batches in 1986.
Today, exemplars from the original run are rather difficult to come by. When they do pop up at auction houses under its more formal name 20 Lithographs (Coloring Book), you’d end up paying $800-$1200 for one of them.
Most of us would be happier with the slice of pizza and the one you can feel safe actually defacing with crayons, amirite?
Here are a few images from 20 Lithographs, including the cover, which is slightly different from the retail product available on Amazon. Interestingly, the book is also a counting book—every image features one of the numbers from 1 to 19, with some element (legs, eyes, stars, etc.) featured in the stated amount. You can see the entire set of images here.