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Keith Haring collaborated with William S. Burroughs to create the 1988 Apocalypse series, a series of 10 screen-prints. Inspired by Burroughs' broken-down language early on, Haring injected his art with its pictographic language. The imagery portrays scenes of violence, war and destruction, living up to its hellish title.

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Meaning & Analysis

One of Harings more enigmatic prints, the Apocalypse series shows him use his signature graffiti-style, bold mark-making on found images. The set of 10 screen prints juxtapose borrowed images with Haring’s graffiti-inspired bold and curving lines, elegantly linked together with blocks of primary colour.

Published in 1988, the series was born from a collaboration with the Beat Era poet and novelist William S. Burroughs, whose text-based ‘cut-up’ method formed the basis of Haring’s pictographic style. Whilst a student at the School of Visual Arts, Haring came across the Beat poets at the 1978 Nova Convention and had been inspired by Burroughs’ methods of breaking down language ever since. As with much of his other works, Haring adopts a system of expression inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics in this series, that repeats and appropriates a set of motifs to create a memorable pictorial language. Read in conjunction with Burroughs’ free-form text, Haring’s prints represent disjointed, violent and at times perplexing episodes that imagine the horrors of Armageddon.

Reflecting a shift from Haring’s more light-hearted early works, the Apocalypse series is dark and menacing, made during the final years of his life when he was living with AIDS. The series is characterised by scenes of war, destruction, and visions of hell on earth. Among drawings of grotesque beasts, satanic symbols, serpents, crumbling cities, TVs and technological-age hybrid monsters, Haring embeds collaged images of high art, Christ icons and 1950s magazine clippings of children. The collage components, juxtaposed with the artist’s raw gestural marks, produces a jarring effect that emphasises the otherworldliness of his subjects.

10 Facts About Keith Haring’s Apocalypse

Keith Haring’s Apocalypse 8. A Pop Art screenprint collage featuring photography and animated dream-like figures.

Apocalypse 8 © Keith Haring 1988

1. Apocalypse is a Collaboration of Genius

The Apocalypse series is a result of the collaboration between Keith Haring and William S. Burroughs in 1988, merging Haring’s visual artistry with Burroughs’ groundbreaking textual cut-up method. This collaboration bridged two creative minds from different spheres, blending Haring's pictographic art with Burroughs' deconstructive approach to literature, showcasing a unique fusion of visual and textual art that reflects the complexities of the modern world.

Keith Haring’s Apocalypse 3. A Pop Art screenprint collage featuring photography and animated dream-like figures.

Apocalypse 3 © Keith Haring 1988

2. Haring’s Hieroglyphic Imagery

Haring’s Apocalypse is notable for its incorporation of Egyptian hieroglyphic-inspired motifs, which are repeated and appropriated across the prints. This stylistic choice creates a memorable pictorial language that, when paired with Burroughs’ text, narrates disjointed and violent scenarios, inviting viewers to decipher the complex relationship between symbols and meanings within Haring’s idea of Armageddon.

Keith Haring’s Apocalypse 4. A Pop Art screenprint collage featuring animated, surrealist characters.

Apocalypse 4 © Keith Haring 1988

3. It Revealed Part of Haring’s Psyche

A departure from his earlier, more whimsical works, the Apocalypse series reflects Haring’s shift towards darker themes. Created during the final years of his life amidst his battle with AIDS, the series examined themes of destruction, war, and hellish imagery, making a poignant statement on Haring’s internal and external turmoil during this period.

Keith Haring’s Apocalypse 10. A Pop Art screenprint collage featuring animated, surrealist characters and religious iconography.

Apocalypse 10 © Keith Haring 1988