In 1980, he discovered a medium that served his purposes perfectly, that being unused advertising panels in New York subways. These panels were a matte surfaced black paper, which were exceptional grounds to work on in chalk. Despite having been arrested a number of times for “criminal mischief,” from 1980 to 1985, he created hundreds of his white chalk public drawings, at times creating up to 40 a day. After a time, regular subway commuters were very familiar with his easily identifiable creations as well as with the artist himself. This familiarity broke down the “us-them” barrier between artist and viewer, and Haring was regularly approached by subway riders who would engage the artist in conversation regarding his work and his life. The New York subway system proved to be a type of “laboratory,” as Haring called it, for working out his unique style and ideas.
Throughout the 1980’s his recognition grew and he participated in numerous exhibitions including a one-man show at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, as well as international shows such as the Documenta 7 in Kassel, the Sao Paolo Biennial, and the Whitney Biennial. He was also the creator of numerous public projects that ranged from an animation for the Spectacular billboard in Times Square, set design for theaters and clubs, Swatch watch design, an ad campaign for Absolut Vodka, and many murals around the globe.