Keith Haring in the Subway
Drawings and Buttons
In the early 1980s, Keith Haring, a pioneer of New York City’s robust street art scene, began his artistic career making chalk drawings in the New York Subway System. It was through these public works where Haring’s figurative, Pop Art style started to garner the attention of passersby.
In 1981 Haring, heavily focused on his subway drawings, began spending his days and nights marking up the walls of the mass transit hub and addressing onlooker’s endless questions; “What is this for?” … “Are you getting paid to do this?” … “Is this an advertisement?” Haring felt he should offer an explanation but instead of a verbal response, he let visuals speak on his behalf. Haring produced a simple drawing of a kneeling baby with a circle of lines surrounding it, representing rays of light, which became known as his Radiant Baby, and a second design of a dog barking. The artist went through the Yellow Pages and found B & R Promotional Products, from which he ordered 1,000 custom buttons with these symbols. Haring started carrying handfuls of pins around with him, handing them out on the subway to anyone who approached him. As people started wearing his radiant baby and barking dog designs, the word quickly spread around New York City about the underground artist and his work. It was at this moment that Haring understood the remarkable power of a button, shaping the trajectory of the artist's career and his ultimate exploration into the world of branded ephemera.