Haring was born in Pennsylvania in 1958. He initially attended the Ivy School of Art in Pittsburgh, before rejecting commercial art and leaving to study instead at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He became friends with fellow artists Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat, immersing himself in the street and club culture. In 1980 he started to chalk blank billboards in the subway stations with his vivid colours and irreverent subjects, combining cartoonish characters with an urban aesthetic, bringing his vision of ‘low’ meets ‘high’ art to the public eye.
Haring devoted his art to the promotion of social action as well as personal expression, particularly after his 1987 diagnosis with AIDS. He established the Keith Haring Foundation in 1989 to promote art programs and public spaces for children, and to raise awareness about AIDS.
He died in February 1990, having battled with AIDS for almost three years.