Keith Haring was an artist and social activist whose colorful pop art embodied the lively spirit of the hip-hop and nightclub scenes in 1980s New York City. Haring first rose to prominence for his stylized chalk drawings in New York City subway stations; his sprawling subway graffiti art garnered attention from the established art world. As his career blossomed, he produced large-scale public murals and displayed his art in museums and galleries all over the world. Much of Haring's work promotes social activism, particularly AIDS awareness and racial equality.\nKeith Haring made a lasting impact on the art world in the span of his short career.\n\n1. __Early life and education__: Haring was born on May 4, 1958, in Reading, Pennsylvania to parents Allen and Joan Haring. He grew up in nearby Kutztown, and his father taught him basic cartooning skills when he was a young boy. Haring quickly developed a talent for drawing and took further inspiration from popular culture, including the work of Dr. Seuss and Charles M. Schulz. \n2. __Training__: Following high school, Haring studied commercial art for two semesters at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, but he dropped out when he decided not to pursue a career in commercial art. In 1978, he moved to New York City to study at the School of Visual Arts.\n3. __Artistic beginnings__: Haring quickly assimilated into the burgeoning East Village alternative art scene. In this underground art community, he met and befriended fellow artists [Jean-Michel Basquiat](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/basquiat-life-and-artworks#who-was-jeanmichel-basquiat) and Kenny Scharf, who would also become major players in the contemporary art world. In 1980, Haring transformed several empty advertising panels on subway station walls into art. Over the next five years, he used white chalk to create hundreds of public subway drawings on panels of black matte paper. The New York Police Department arrested him multiple times on charges of vandalism.\n4. __Rise to fame__: In 1981 Haring held his first solo exhibition at the Westbeth Painters Space in Manhattan, and he debuted a critically acclaimed solo exhibition at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in SoHo the following year. Between 1982 and 1986 he produced more than 50 public works all over the world, many created for hospitals, charities, and orphanages. In April 1986 Haring opened a retail store in SoHo called the Pop Shop, which sold posters, T-shirts, magnets, and other items displaying his artwork.\n5. __Legacy__: After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, Haring established the Keith Haring Foundation to raise money for AIDS organizations and children's programs. Haring died of AIDS-related complications on February 16, 1990, at the age of 31. His work has appeared in more than 100 exhibitions, and he collaborated on projects with cultural icons like [Andy Warhol](https://www.masterclass.com/articles/andy-warhol-guide), William S. Burroughs, Madonna, Yoko Ono, and Grace Jones. His art remains on display in public locations and museums, including New York City's Museum of Modern Art, Paris' Centre Pompidou, and the Art Institute of Chicago.\nPart of Haring's wide appeal is that his art is energetic and appears deceptively effortless. Stylistic and thematic characteristics of Haring's art include:\n\n1. __Rhythmic lines__: Haring liked to listen to hip-hop music as he created his pieces. Using the beat of the music as inspiration, he painted bold, rhythmic lines to depict feelings of energy and movement.\n2. __Vinyl tarpaulin canvas__: In the early years of his career, Haring painted on vinyl tarps, the same material that street breakdancers often laid on the ground before performances. He didn't start using traditional canvas material until around 1985.\n3. __Tight patterns and abstract forms__: Haring's trademark style involves tightly organized patterns with abstract imagery and interlocking human figures.\n4. __Repeated motifs__: Haring incorporated some of the same signature images into multiple art pieces, including a barking dog, giant hearts, flying saucers, people with TV sets for heads, and his trademark "radiant baby" —crawling baby encircled with lines.\n5. __Cartoon-like style__: Haring's art had a colorful, cartoon-like style. Haring typically used only a few colors in highly-saturated bright hues.\n6. __Social commentary__: Haring was a social activist and a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, AIDS awareness, and anti-racism. He touched on these subjects in many of his art pieces.\nThe following pieces by Keith Haring exemplify his signature style and commitment to creating positive social change.\n\n1. __*Crack Is Wack* (1986)__: Haring's most famous piece is a public mural on a handball court in Harlem, New York City. He painted it in response to the crack epidemic that began in the 1980s. The mural's titular message appears in a cloud of smoke from a crack pipe, surrounded by images of skulls, burning money, and drug-users falling prey to their deadly addiction.\n2. __*Free South Africa* (1985)__: This anti-apartheid piece was Haring’s comment on the oppressive and racist system of power held by the South African government. The piece shows a large black figure stomping on a small white figure who's holding a leash around the black figure's neck. The size differential highlights the irony of the white minority population oppressing the Black majority. Haring printed and distributed 20,000 poster versions of this painting throughout New York City to gain support for the anti-apartheid movement.\n3. __*Ignorance = Fear* (1989)__: This piece features three figures—one covering its eyes, one covering its ears, and the other covering its mouth—surrounded by the words "Ignorance = Fear, Silence = Death, Fight Aids Act Up." (The proverbial saying “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” was a recurring theme in Haring’s work.) With this piece, Haring called out the American government's failure to promote awareness of the AIDS crisis. \n4. __*Berlin Wall Mural* (1986)__: Haring painted a 300-meter long mural on the Berlin Wall featuring interlocking human figures and the colors of the German flag, representing the hope for unity between the people of East and West Germany.\nGrab the [MasterClass Annual Membership](https://www.masterclass.com) and plumb the depths of your creativity with the help of modern artist Jeff Koons, abstract artist Futura, and stage designer Es Devlin. Our exclusive video lessons will teach you to do things like utilize color and scale, explore the beauty in everyday objects, and so much more.\nKeith Haring went from underground street art phenomenon to international art superstar in his short 12-year career.