If most of his contemporaries continually sought new forms and “periods,” Keith Haring forged his signature style early and used it as a springboard to approach complicated, nuanced social issues. It wasn’t long before that style was everywhere; in fact, Haring is the rare art star whose work precedes his name.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, he tried studying at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, but dropped out after reading Robert Henri‘s The Art Spirit. In 1978, at the age of 20, he moved to New York City and began his art career on his own terms—through graffiti, using chalk on ads in subway cars and stations. This would be his laboratory, a place to experiment and mature his style: outlined, expressive, cartoonish figures always seemingly in motion. In the city in the early 80s, he got to know fellow Pennsylvanian Andy Warhol, who helped jumpstart his career, along with many other cultural icons, such as Madonna, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Through the rest of the 80s, he would apply his art to numerous political causes—from the fall of the Berlin wall to AIDS awareness—though today his work frequently finds itself in much more anodyne contexts. On February 16, 1990, at the age of 31, Haring died of AIDS-related complications. His work (and persona) has since earned a considerable afterlife.
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