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Critical Review

15 etchings from 1989, The Valley series marks a shift in Haring’s visual style to use of fine lines and enigmatic subject matter. As one of Haring’s most enigmatic and powerful works, the series brings together a set of intricate line drawings depicting horror and chaos in the fictional world of the valley.

Published in 1989, the series was born from a collaboration with the Beat Era poet and novelist William S. Burroughs, whose text-based ‘cup-up’ method formed the basis of Haring’s pictographic style. As a student at the School of Visual Arts, Haring came across the Beat poets at the 1978 Nova Convention and had been inspired by Burroughs’ methods of breaking down language ever since. The ominous texts by Burroughs are copied by hand on sixteen sheets of tracing paper, which were photo-etched onto copper plates and printed in red ink. The text which is also titled, The Valley, is a chapter from the author’s novel, The Western Lands from 1987. Read in conjunction with Burroughs’ free-form text, Haring’s prints represent disjointed, violent and at times perplexing episodes that imagine the end of times.

The Valley series is made up of images that are depicted exclusively in black and white and contrast to many of Haring’s black and white works due to his use of fine lines and complex compositions. Finer details are included in each print to replicate the elaborate narrative of Burroughs’ text. Haring marks the figures in this series as gendered and with facial features, unlike in his iconic works where his famous figures are both genderless and featureless.

Reflecting a shift from Haring’s more light-hearted early works, The Valley series is dark and menacing, made during the final years of his life when he was living with AIDS. Alongside his Apocalypse series (1988), this series introduces stylistic shifts of more complex compositions and characters such as jesters, masks, skills and martyrs. This series tells the story of the valley people who live in hellish conditions, then rescued by people from the outside world. Haring and Burroughs set up an ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative in this series, notably around contamination from the valley people. Thus, The Valley series strikes parallels with contemporary crises like the AIDS epidemic and functions as an interesting social commentary.