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Critical Review

A unique set of compositions, depicted in his trademark visual language, Dog shows one of Haring’s most iconic symbols, the barking dog. Showing one of Haring’s most iconic symbols, the barking dog, this series exemplifies the artist’s talent in conveying complex moral messages through succinct symbols and simplified figures.

Across the series each composition remains the same, differing only in colour and with Dog (yellow)and Dog (black) presented as semi-sculptural screen prints on plywood. Encompassed within the shape of Haring’s human-like standing dog figure is a chaotic scene of stick figures, televisions, dogs, humanoids and deformed animals, providing the viewer with a glimpse of Hell. The figures are shown devouring, having sex with and clambering on top of one another, with a devil-like figure spreading its wings at the top of the image. This dizzying frenzy of pictograms speaks to Haring’s feelings surrounding the socio-political events that characterised 1980s New York like the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Cold War and crack epidemic.

Why is the Dog series important?

The barking dog has become an iconic symbol created by Haring, first appearing in his New York subway drawing series from 1980-85. Emerging as a symbol to represent authoritarian government, abuse of power and oppressive regimes, the Dog series is representative of the way Haring warns the viewer of those in power throughout much of his oeuvre. Haring repurposes the playful motif of the dog, a symbol used throughout art history to represent loyalty, companionship and obedience, to remind viewers to question their assumptions at first glance.

Somewhat reminiscent of Aztec or Aboriginal inspired designs, Haring’s complex pattern of menacing creatures that decorate the standing dog is rendered in bold, rounded lines and stark contrasts to create a visually assertive set of prints. Additionally, the standing dog itself recalls ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in its angular and simplified form. Haring’s Dog series are therefore rhythmic, all-over compositions that focus on pattern rather than realism, working to create a kinetic series of images that excite the viewer and transcend reality. 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.

Elevating primitive stick figures and cartoon-like characters to the realm of high art, Haring sought to democratise art with works such as the Dog series, working to stand up for the oppressed and overlooked in society. This print is symptomatic of the way in which Haring was unafraid to address taboo subjects such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic and drugs crisis of 1980s New York, through his use of explicit imagery.

Haring’s Dog series is indicative of the artist’s legacy in using simplified pictograms to be understood by the masses and appeal to a wide ranging group of people. Working to create a syntax of signs to produce a so-called universal language, Haring’s work embodies the sensibility of a true public art that communicates weighty moral messages through a positive visual language.

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