This signed screen print from 1990 is a limited edition of 250 from Keith Haring’s Icons series. Radiant Baby is cherished as Haring’s most recognisable image. It shows a bright orange cartoon child, crawling on its hands and knees, with a sky-blue backdrop. Rendered in his characteristic pop-graffiti style, the figure is boldly outlined in black with thick, radiating lines pulsating from its body. The symbol first emerged in Haring’s work during his days as a subway artist in New York, where he used the Radiant Baby in place of his signature, known as his ‘tag’, on public art projects.
Rooted in his encounter with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, Haring reworks the group’s Christian iconography to critique organised religion and the government amidst the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York. In this print, rays emanate from the child’s body, imitating a well-known convention in religious art to emphasise the baby as a holy figure like Jesus Christ. As with other prints in the series, like Angel and Flying Devil), Haring depicts religious iconography in the visual vocabulary of a cartoon, thus producing a cynical and ambiguous image.
Radiant Baby is a noteworthy example of how Haring created optimistic icons for his generation, to be displayed in public spaces during a time of technological acceleration, rampant capitalism and political turmoil. Haring described the Radiant Baby as “the purest and most positive experience of human existence” and used the figure as a symbol of hope for the future.