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.
Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1988, Haring’s prodigious career was brief, and he died of AIDS-related complications on February 16, 1990 at the age of 31. Before his death, Haring established the Keith Haring Foundation, a non-profit committed to raising awareness of the illness through art programing and community outreach. The artist’s mural Crack is Wack (1986), can still be seen today on a retaining wall along FDR Drive in Manhattan. Haring’s works can be found in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.