Toni Clayton, American Pop & Modern Specialist
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Recognizable and immediately arresting, a series of simplified and pure forms comes to the fore in the White Icons series. A deceptively simple visual language reminds us of Haring’s belief that, in order to create dialogue between people and bring them closer together, art needs to be direct and accessible.
In 1990, Haring released a series of five embossings characterised by the focus on symbolism and the use of bold colours. The White Icons echo the previous series as each print displays only one symbol without employing any colours.
Reappropriating redemptive imagery and rejecting colours, White Icons are suffused with contrast between life and death, light and darkness, religion and sexuality. The purity of the image and powerful symbolism correspond strongly with Haring’s experience of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
Haring’s encounter with the Jesus Movement left a palpable imprint on the series. In White Icons, Haring takes recourse to the religious source material and reshapes Christian iconography to create a bold visual language that evokes the sociocultural tensions of his time.
Close friends and prominent figures within Manhattan’s creative circles in the 1980s, Basquiat and Haring created works grounded in simplistic forms and minimalism. White Icons show that the appearance of such forms is often very deceptive. As in the case of Basquiat, after a closer look, iconography in Haring’s works reveals a complex web of references as well as a historical lineage.
Evocative of the creative energies of 1980s street culture that inspired Haring across his career, the symbols combined in his White Icons series represent the foundations of Haring’s recognisable Pop-graffiti style. The cartoon-like imagery displayed in the series established Haring as a leading artist of his generation.
White Icons mark a stylistic change in Haring’s practice. The gaudy colours and of the artist’s previous series give way to a uniform brightness and a sense of purity of the image.
Characterised by simplicity and abandonment of colour, White Icons evoke tensions of the 1980s as well as an array of historical associations even though Haring’s reduction of his visual language reaches its height in the series.
The symbols featured in White Icons appeared first in Haring’s subway drawings. Haring’s use of a simplistic, solid line defines both his early subway drawings and this late series.