The Joyful Pluralism of Keith Haring
Dubbed “a child of Pop art,” Keith Haring swiftly ascended to be among the genre’s royalty when his career soared in the 1980s. With iconic line-work and bold colors, Haring seamlessly embraced tropes of commercial culture while creating a wholly unique body of work that pushed against the status quo. As Haring wove together high and low, so too did his subject matter ricochet between tragedy (including the AIDS crisis and South African apartheid) and pure, infectious joy of being. The 1988 Growing Suite exemplifies the latter — consisting of the complete set of five color screenprints, the series bursts with vibrant color and bodies-in-motion, a style that is pure Haring.
“Because the hand is central to Keith’s process,” Jeffrey Deitch says, “his work comes right out of his body.” This notion of Haring’s prints as a mobile extension of the artist’s body emanates from the Growing Suite, both in its ecstatic, interconnected content and the chosen medium of screenprinting. In subject, the works bear similarity to the Pop Shop I and Pop Shop II series of that same era; all three series feature Haring’s iconic human figures in various stages of movement and convergence. As its title suggests, Growing’s forms are transitory, in-process, and, significantly, interdependent. Circles appear (often interchangeably) as heads and abdomens within the series, suggesting seeds and sources of origin. In one work, a single figure branches upward and outward into multiple figures like a tree growing towards the sun. That upward thrust appears again in the “people ladder,” where a smaller, child-like figure appears lifted into being by two supporting figures.
That Haring so readily adapted his inherently intimate medium — drawing — for purposes of reproduction is integral to his particular genius and legacy. “Whatever [Haring] carried out, he tended towards swift dissemination, duplication and ubiquitous application,” Werner Jehle wrote in his introduction to Keith Haring: Editions on Paper 1982-1990. While such “ubiquity” may for some preclude Haring from an academicized art historical canon, it is arguably his embrace of an inclusive, pluralistic vision of humanity that imbues his work with so much power. Deitch nods to Haring’s deliberate universality, offering “[Haring] is one of the primary links between hip hop from the South Bronx, gay dance club culture, the conceptual art culture of the Lower East Side, and street art culture. He put all these things together. In his lifestyle and his circle, and, obviously, in his art.” As a microcosm of Haring’s career and life, Growing Suite offers an exuberant and swiftly communicated message of human interconnectedness