Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990), a Neo-Pop and Graffiti artist, had a short but prolific career centered on a vision to unite “high art,” urban aesthetics, and public spaces using humorous, irreverent, and poignant works. Born in Pennsylvania, Haring attended the Ivy School of Art in Pittsburgh for two years, planning to become a commercial artist. He found this path unsatisfying, and instead chose to study at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where he met fellow artists Jean Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. Haring immersed himself in the culture of the city’s streets and clubs, and, in 1980, began covering the blank billboards on subway station walls with his Subway drawings in chalk.
Haring’s bold public art attracted the attention of several galleries, and, by the early 1980s, he was painting Neo-Pop works and large murals full time. In an effort to make his art widely accessible, Haring opened the Pop Shop in 1986 in downtown New York, selling commercial items adorned with his signature, cartoonish imagery. Haring combined graffiti, hip-hop, and urban aesthetics, frequently depicting animals, figures, commercial icons, sexual imagery, and childlike motifs in pieces that were both playful and concerned with social issues. His work became increasingly confrontational following his 1987 diagnosis of AIDS. Haring resolved to work harder than ever in his remaining years, creating pieces with a fervent speed and devoting his art to social action in addition to his personal expression.
In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, whose goal is to promote art programs and public spaces for children, and to raise awareness about AIDS. He died on February 16, 1990 in New York at the age of 31. In addition to hundreds of exhibitions held during his lifetime, Haring has been the subject of numerous retrospectives in New York, San Francisco, Paris, Tokyo, and Berlin since his death.