This signed etching from 1989 is a limited edition of 60 by Keith Haring. Totem shows an image of a human-like figure, filled with a frenzy of shapes and smaller figures to form a symmetrical pattern. Reminiscent of Aztec or Aboriginal art, Haring uses red and black lines to form the print that is cut into three sections.
Explaining why many of his works resembled Aztec or Aboriginal art, Haring has said “My drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life,” something that he believed to be a so-called primitive idea. Totem is exemplary of this notion by creating a rhythmic, all-over composition that focuses on symmetry rather than realism. Using simplified line and intuitive form, Haring produces an appealing image that excites the viewer and transcends reality.
Much of Haring’s works are untitled as he wished to leave interpretation to the viewer. This woodcut, Totem, is related to Haring’s interest in forging a link between the imagination of the artist and the audience due to its ambiguous form and subject. The artist’s simplicity in line and pattern appeals to children and adults alike, something that is in keeping with his desire to create a truly public and accessible form of art.