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Keith Haring's 1989 Chocolate Buddha series draws on global ancient arts, such as Eastern Mandalas and Australian Aboriginal art, for its symmetrical patterns and continuous flow of line and energy.

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Meaning & Analysis

Haring’s bold 1989 Chocolate Buddha series creates complex, symmetrical patterns through the interlocking of limbs, creatures and objects. Chocolate Buddha 3 is the only print in the series that is not symmetrical in composition.

Completed the year before Haring’s death, this series amalgamates the artist’s clear-line figurative style with more complex and integrated compositions to form a series of highly abstracted images. Recalling styles of the ancient world such as Eastern Mandalas and Australian Aboriginal art, the Chocolate Buddha series also shows influence from the European Modernists such as Miro, Klee and Matisse. This is notable from the way in which the prints focus on flat, richly coloured shapes and patterns that play out across the image surface.

Striking a balance between figuration and abstracting, Haring’s Chocolate Buddha series has a kinetic energy, produced through his use of jarring colours and complex patterns. The series has a compulsive quality that fills out across each print in the series that injects the static images with a sense of movement. Furthermore, there is an electric flow of line that is satisfying for the viewer to follow, emphasised by each print’s symmetrical composition. By limiting himself to the use of two tones in each print, and by using his trademark, bold, thick lines, this set of prints maintain the eye-catching simplicity that Haring is so famous for.

Haring’s Chocolate Buddha series is produced through the medium of lithography, a printing process that utilises a slab of stone or metal to apply ink that then repels the pigment onto fibrous material like paper. Unlike Haring’s more commercial screen printing method, this printing process dates back to the 18th century and has the capacity to produce exceptional detail across hundreds of multiples. Haring’s use of lithography as a method of printing worked to maintain the crisp edges and opaque sections of colour that make up his signature style.

10 Facts About Keith Haring's Chocolate Buddha

Chocolate Buddha 1 by Keith Haring

Chocolate Buddha 1 © Keith Haring 1989

1. In Chocolate Buddha, Haring continued his shift away from simple and joyous subject matter.

The Chocolate Buddha series takes the features and tendencies of Retrospect even further. In the five prints the series consists of, the image of the human figure is hardly discernible. The individual human shape dissolves amidst the welder of swirling, densely accumulated lines, speaking of the pervasive effects of capitalism and mass media on the identity of the modern man.

Chocolate Buddha 3 by Keith Haring

Chocolate Buddha 3 © Keith Haring 1989

2. Haring's experimental line carries a symbolic force.

Haring’s signature use of a thick, solid line comes to the fore Chocolate Buddha, capturing the artist’s ability to convey complex messages with austere means. Schematically outlined figures and shapes are interconnected in each of the five prints. Haring's line avoids creating clear boundaries between individual figures. As a result, outlines of shapes and figures seem to melt into one another, either bonding or entrapping one another.

Chocolate Buddha 4 by Keith Haring

Chocolate Buddha 4 © Keith Haring 1989

3. Haring's Chocolate Buddha is far removed from its sacred prototype.

As the title of the series suggests, the ambiguous character vying for the viewer's attention isn’t exactly a figure of religious authority. Rather than Buddha, Haring depicts a no longer sacred surrogate of the spiritual teacher and thinker. Describing the figure specifically as the Chocolate Buddha, Haring positions it as a type of commodity, suggesting that capitalism erases the boundary between art and consumer objects.

Apocalypse 5 by Keith Haring

Apocalypse 5 © Keith Haring 1988