Apocalypse 1 is the first in a set of 10 coloured screen prints by Keith Haring that make up his compelling Apocalypse series (1988), and is a limited edition of 90. The print shows a large phallic mushroom cloud, rendered with a gestural stroke of red ink and dark free-forming lines. An amorphous mass of people surrounds and worships the exploding phallus whilst two ‘devil sperm’ float on either side.
Throughout Haring’s work, the mushroom cloud is a signifier of death and destruction alluding to the idea of the final apocalypse, as also seen in his Anti-Nuclear Rally poster (1982). Amidst the devastating effects of the AIDS crisis, Haring related the concept of nuclear holocaust to views held by the Jesus Movement on Revelation to forecast the end of the world. Haring directly correlates sexuality with death in his depiction of enormous horned sperm, a demoniacal personification of death in relation to sex, and by extension, the AIDS virus. The ‘devil sperm’ motif is repeated multiple times throughout the series.
Embedded in the print are two reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, defaced by Haring with black X’s over her eyes. The appropriation of this image integrates divergent subjects from contemporary culture and history, thus producing a jarring effect between the self-assured visual perfection of high art and rawness of Haring’s gestural marks. Haring’s visceral and uninhibited graffiti style, accentuated by the drip and splatter marks, makes clear his own bodily suffering due to AIDS and the anguish felt in relation to contemporary events.