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Keith Haring’s Flowers series, a set of five vibrant and alien like prints, was created only months before his tragic death in 1990. They feature phallic plants, alluding to the gay community's fight against AIDS and public miscomprehension, while the intertwining shapes suggest energy and joint struggle.

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Meaning & Analysis

Completed only months before his tragic death in 1990, Haring’s Flowers series is a vibrant set of prints rendered in his distinct pop-graffiti style Across the five prints Haring depicts a variety of fluid, phallic shapes to represent plant forms and growth but with a visceral, painterly quality that is not always present in his work.

The visceral style that characterises the Flowers series is heavily inspired by figures like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning from the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s and 50s. The screen print ink has been allowed to drip down the image, forming thin, brightly coloured streaks and splatters that stand out against the bold, dark outlines. The influence of Haring’s good friend Jean-Michel Basquiat also comes through in this series. Haring uses his distinct graffiti style to create a truly public art, just as Basquiat had done before him, that merges high art with popular culture.

The latter part of Haring’s career was characterised by the HIV/AIDS epidemic that devastated the gay community in 1980s New York and deeply affected Haring following his own AIDS diagnosis in 1988. The expressionist quality of his Flowers series is representative of the way in which Haring worked rapidly to produce as much artwork as possible in the last years of his life. Indeed, artist Karey Maurice when looking back on his intimate friendship with Haring once said that “he showed me through sickness you still have to work and produce and give to the world what you intended to do.” Not only does the artist’s use of fluid line and gestural marks convey a sense of urgency in this series but it also works to express Haring’s bodily suffering felt from the effects of the virus.

10 Facts About Keith Haring's Flowers

Flowers I by Keith Haring

Flowers I © Keith Haring 1990

1. The series was created months before Haring's untimely death in 1990.

Printed in the months leading to his untimely death from AIDS in 1990, Haring's Flowers series carries a weighted sense of urgency. In his sprawling application of colour and rapidly delineated figures, we witness the artist working against the inevitable force of time. In Flowers I, the flowers appear to have been plucked by a strange creature. The flowers wilt in its grip, perhaps alluding to Haring's coming to terms with his fate.

Flowers II by Keith Haring

Flowers II © Keith Haring 1990

2. Haring's Flowers reveal his suffering from AIDS towards the end of his life.

Unlike his hopeful Dancing Flower, Haring's 1990 Flowers series is much more ambiguous and emotionally loaded. Flowers II, for example, depicts three human-like flower stems trapped by a chain reaching across the centre of the composition. The flowers also appear to grow phallic limbs, making the chain an even more threatening force and alluding to the physical and mental pain Haring faced towards the end of his life.

Flowers V by Keith Haring

Flowers V © Keith Haring 1990

3. The series appropriates the historical genre of vanitas to convey Haring's own mortality.

In the long-standing history of art, flowers have been used as a symbol for the richness and beauty of life, as well as the fleetingness and fragility of it. From the 16th century, flowers became an integral component of vanitas painting, which united symbolic objects to illustrate mankind's mortality. Haring's focus on the subject months before his death might, therefore, signal his reflection on the impermanence of his own short life.

Ernok by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Ernok © Jean-Michel Basquiat 2001