Keith Haring is considered one of the true legends of street art

He was only 31 years old when he died from complications from AIDS. Even death could not stop his rise to fame.

Alternative culture became popular in New York in the 1980s. Artists turned away from museums and galleries in favor of subways, streets, and warehouses. Graffiti began to be a common sight in public walls around the city. 

Graffiti is a form of art, while typically illegal, involves the unauthorized use of public space for any markings by a group or individual. While graffiti is often associated with spray-painted symbols or phrases by thrill-seeking street gangs, it is also an expressive art form. 

Keith Haring is an American designer and graphic artist who popularized some of the impulses and strategies of graffiti art. He yielded to the temptation of leaving his mark on the black walls of New York using white chalk. He also became famous for his subway drawings. 

Date and Place of Birth

Keith Haring was born in Reading, Berks County in Pennsylvania, on May 4, 1958. Him and his three sisters were raised by their parents, Allen and Joan Haring, in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Keith grew up in a religious family. They attended the United Church of Christ, where he joined the evangelical "Jesus Movement." 

Early Life and Education

As a young boy, Haring was mesmerized by the cartoon illustrations of Charles Schultz, Walt Disney, Looney Tunes, and Dr. Seuss. He was influenced by his engineer-father, who loved to draw cartoons as a hobby.  

Haring enrolled at the Ivy School of Professional Art, a commercial art school in Pittsburgh, in 1976, right after high school but dropped out after only two semesters. He continued to study independently and even had a solo exhibition at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center in 1978. He returned to school after two years at the School of Visual Arts in New York. 

Finding Comfort in Art

While in New York, Haring discovered a flourishing alternative art community or underworld art scene that exhibited their artworks in downtown streets, public walls, subways, and nightclubs instead of museums and galleries. 

Haring became friends with fellow thriving artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat and performance artists, musicians, and graffiti artists who composed the rapidly increasing art community. He then started to immerse himself in the street scene and punk clubs in New York.

Other than in nightclubs, Haring began to use public spaces in New York as his canvas. He began to draw graffiti on blank and black advertising walls in the subways of New York with white chalk. Several times Haring got arrested for drawing on subways, but people loved his art. He continued to draw on public spaces because it was his dream for everyone to experience art. 

His artworks were all over the streets of New York and around the world, such as in public murals, subways, nightclubs, museums, and galleries. He also became known as an activist promoting AIDS awareness. Haring also made outdoor murals. His works conquered Atlanta, Chicago, Melbourne, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, and other areas. A lot of children often assisted him. 

Dancing figures, a barking dog, large hearts, a flying saucer, a radiant baby, and figures with TVs as heads were signature images of Haring. His graffiti art fascinated commuters in New York. Unfortunately, his artworks got the ire of the authorities, who, on various occasions, arrested him for vandalism. 

Haring was eventually able to gain universal recognition for his paintings and freestanding drawings. His bright colors and bold lines showed optimism and energy that made him popular with a broad audience. 

In 1981, Haring mounted his first solo exhibition at Manhattan's Westbeth Painters Space. However, his exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 1982 was what would represent his art and his career. 

Since the 1980s, artworks of Haring have been exhibited in the US and around the world. He also teamed up with such performers and artists as William S. Burroughs, Grace Jones, and Andy Warhol to bring his works closer to the masses. 

Haring ventured into retail selling to make his art more accessible to everyone. In 1986, he opened the Pop Shop in the SoHo neighborhood in New York. He sold T-shirts, pin-on buttons, posters, original prints, and other items featuring his signature designs. All these were sold at affordable prices. He also opened a branch in Tokyo in 1988. 


Keith Haring was a graffiti artist, muralist, and sculptor. He made art with kids and for kids. Many of his murals were in children's schools and hospitals. He even created a gigantic artwork, together with over 1,000 kids of the Statue of Liberty. 

When he started to become famous with exhibitions in galleries, he donated the proceeds from his paintings to children's charities. 

Albeit his short life, he was a contemporary artist that created a huge and quiet impact on the subconscious of the masses on a grand scale. Most of his works were in cartoons. 

Andy Mouse (1986). This artwork combines Disney's Mickey Mouse and Andy Warhol, a close friend, and a famous Pop Art artist. This artwork bridged the gap between generations and was signed by both Haring and Warhol. 

The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell (1984). This artwork depicts the union of heaven and hell. It symbolizes the street life in New York marred by drugs, AIDS, and nuclear weapons. Social activism was an integral component of Haring's artistic career. 

Crack Is Wack (1986). This is a mural at 128th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York. It was inspired by the crack epidemic and its impact on the city. This mural still exists today to spread awareness for crack users. 

Crack Down (1986).  This artwork represents the abolishment and crackdown on crack. 

Lucky Strike (1987). This painting is one of Haring's famous works. It was created for an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Ignorance = Fear (1989). Haring designed and made this poster for the AIDS activist group based in New York. It featured three wise monkeys that "see nothing," "hear nothing," and "say nothing." 

Best Buddies (1990). This is one of Haring's final print series before he died. This artwork depicted two figures hugging and became the symbol of universal acceptance and love. 

Radiant Baby (1990). This is one of the famous paintings of Haring. It is a simple outline depicting a crawling baby or person. It symbolizes youthful ignorance, goodness, and purity. 

Barking Dog (1990). This is an outline of a dog with an open mouth. Canines with half-open mouths are one of the most universally recognized symbols of Haring's street arts. 

Greatest Achievements

Keith Haring was famous for his graffiti which was first done in subway stations and eventually exhibited in museums. He was an artist who was prolific on the street and in the studio. He was considered one of the true legends of street art. 

Many of Haring's art is still being exhibited all over the world. They are owned by prominent museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France.

The art of Keith Haring continues to have a strong appeal with its simple style and deeper tones of social harmony, love, war, and death. 


Keith Haring became very sick in 1988 with AIDS. He, however, kept on drawing. He made posters to educate people about his illness. In 1989, he set up The Keith Haring Foundation to support AIDS research and to help poor kids. Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990, in New York of complications related to AIDS. He was only 31 years old.