While studying fine art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City during the 1980s, Keith Haring immersed himself in the city’s graffiti culture. After befriending fellow contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Kenny Scharf, Haring became an integral part of the legendary New York art scene. He also collaborated with several well-known celebrities, such as Madonna and Grace Jones.
Haring used street art as a form of social activism. Haring was openly gay and diagnosed with AIDS in 1987. In 1989, he established the Keith Haring Foundation in order to promote art programs for children and raise awareness about the AIDs epidemic. Although Haring mainly devoted his art to AIDS awareness and civil rights, he also used his illustrative depictions to expose many other social and political issues including South African apartheid, the crack cocaine epidemic in New York City, and conservative American politics of the 1980s. Haring’s use of street art allowed him to inform the public of the social issues he was concerned with, allowing him to potentially shape greater opinion on these topics.
Keith Haring passed away on February 16, 1990 in New York at the age of 31 due to his incurable disease. Since his untimely death, Haring has been the subject of numerous exhibitions around the world. Haring’s most recent retrospective was at the Tate Liverpool, centering on how activism played a key role in his art. The exhibition, which was open from June to November 2019, focused on Haring’s response to contemporary issues such as racism, homophobia, drug addiction, AIDs awareness, capitalism, and the environment. Haring’s impact on street art was displayed through over 85 works of art, including paintings, drawings, posters, photographs, videos at the Tate Liverpool only six months ago.
Haring’s artwork can still be seen in museums and galleries throughout the globe. His artwork is still being sold internationally with great demand at prominent auction houses and galleries. His iconic symbolism can be seen on designer t-shirts, sweatshirts, phone cases, and coffee mugs at both local pop-up shops and international retailers. In other words, Keith Haring, his artwork, and his messages remain strongly relevant to our contemporary society.