Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
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Keith Haring was perpetually drawn to the motif of the pyramid throughout his artistic career. Inspired by ancient civilisations and ideas of eternity, Haring sought to create an iconography which would be universally legible, even after his own untimely death.
The upside-down pink triangle was a symbol perpetuated by the Nazis to identify and alienate homosexual men. With the organisation ACT UP, who campaigned tirelessly for AIDS visibility, Keith Haring flipped the triangle into one of his pyramids. Populated by his iconic outlined figures, Silence Equals Death uses this pink pyramid as a triumphant symbol. This work, alongside a lot of Haring's later oeuvre, advocated for socio-political action to end the AIDS epidemic once and for all.
Keith Haring committed himself to creating a universal, visual language in his artwork. By foregrounding the pyramid, Haring revealed his relentless crafting of these modern hieroglyphics. Coupled with his simple outlined figures, Haring created an iconography which is universally legible, regardless of language, class, sexual, and gender barriers.
Haring's outlined figures are famously gender-less, race-less, and class-less, making them instantly relatable. Thanks to this, his artwork represented the many strengths and the many pitfalls of humanity. In Pyramid (gold) and Pyramid (blue), Haring represents the vices and virtues of mankind, respectfully. The entire pyramid is filled with a flurry of Haring's archetypal figures, conveying powerful moral stories to the viewer through images alone.
Perpetually inspired by the long-standing pyramids of Ancient Egypt, Haring's Pyramids are testament to the resilience of human invention. The pyramid became a particularly important motif in Haring's Fertility Suite series, which challenged the injustices of racism and the horror of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. Fertility 2 takes a spotted pyramid as its focal point, which is under attack by two UFOs. In spite of this the pyramid remains in tact, speaking to the strength of people affected by the AIDS epidemic.
Though Keith Haring is best known for his bold and lively prints, many of his works pay homage to ancient civilisations, their iconography, and their crafts. The motif of the pyramid conveys Haring's desire to emulate ancient visual symbols, and create an iconography which is not only universally legible, but could be understood and appreciated long after his death.
From his Fertility Suite to his Blueprint Drawings, pyramids have been a repeated motif in Haring's work. Like many of his motifs, the pyramid is a familiar sight to most viewers, and is closely associated to the spirituality of ancient civilisations. As Haring once said, "The pyramid is connected with an unknown force... maybe people once thought they could store their energy in that kind of building".
In his extrapolation of the pyramid as a visual symbol, Haring confronts the 'othering' of certain groups in society. In Pyramid (gold), the pyramid is adorned with a myriad of figures and hellish creatures, conveying the threats of the AIDS epidemic to mankind. The symbol, however, demands the viewer to take a closer look and contemplate the scene, shifting their perception and urging action.
Haring's fascination with pyramids might be owed, in part, to one of his most frequented night clubs in New York: the Pyramid Club. The club was one of the city's most magnetic alternative disco scenes, drawing the likes of Madonna and Andy Warhol, alongside Haring. Haring was so fond of the club that he staged a fundraiser there to raise funds for AIDS research, following the death of his friend Martin Burgoyne. His poster for the event, Keith Haring Pyramid Club 1986, features the motif of the pyramid with his Pop Shop figures.
In his pursuit of creating a universal iconography, Haring created simple and eye-catching characters and symbols. The pyramid, alongside his Radiant Baby and Barking Dog, is a motif that is distinctly Haring.
For Haring, pyramids not only enveloped his modern hieroglyphics, but symbolised eternity. Pile Of Crowns For Jean-Michel Basquiat combines the Haring motif of the pyramid with Basquiat's crowns. The work was created shortly after Basquiat's untimely death, and is therefore Haring's homage to his friend and the enduring legacy of his life and work. Likewise, the pyramid is also testament to the timeless nature of Haring's iconography and the abiding impact of his work after his own death from AIDS in 1990.