Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990), Neo-Pop and Graffiti artist, had a short but prolific career centered on a vision to unite “high art,” urban aesthetics, and public spaces, in 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 City, 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 top galleries, and, by the early 1980s, he was painting Neo-Pop works and large murals for children. 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 art. Haring combined cartoon imagery with graffiti, hip-hop, and urban aesthetics, frequently depicting animals, figures, commercial icons, sexual imagery, and childlike motifs in pieces both playful and apprehensive.
His work became increasingly anxious and angry following his 1987 diagnosis with 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 personal expression. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation, meant to promote art programs and public spaces for children, and to raise awareness about AIDS. He died in February 1990. In addition to hundreds of exhibitions held during his lifetime, Haring has had numerous retrospectives in New York, San Francisco, Paris, Tokyo, and Berlin since his death.