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White Icons is a set of five prints from 1990 each showing a single one of Haring’s famous symbols, rendered as an embossing on plain white paper. Exactly mimicking the artist’s Icons series but without colour, these images represent some of Haring’s most recognisable motifs of his career showing the radiant baby, angel, flying devil, three-eyed monster and barking dog.
Much like fellow graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring reuses particular symbols, all present in the Icons series, to produce a memorable pictorial language. Haring produces a set of recognisable positive symbols and clear-cut narrative views in his use of simplified form and repetition of images from previous works. The symbols used in White Icons first appeared in Haring’s New York subway drawings from the beginning of his career, notably the radiant baby ‘tag’ that the artist used in place of his signature on public art projects. Uncompromising in its positive tone, Haring’s syntax of signs in this series creates a universal language to be seen and understood by the masses of New York, thus producing a true public art charged with meaning.
Rendered in his characteristic pop-graffiti style, these figures are formed from bold embossed contours with thick, rounded lines radiating from the figures to provide a sense of excitement and movement. Whilst Haring’s Icons series is rendered in flat, saturated colours as a nod to the rise of commercialism and mass production in the artist’s lifetime, White Icons has been stripped of the eye-catching colours of the original prints. The way in which Haring has depicted these icons without their original saturated colours works to simplify the images down even further and create a more subtle tone to the works.
Barking Dog (white) © Keith Haring 1990
Recognizable and immediately arresting, a series of simplified and pure forms comes to the fore in the White Icons series. A deceptively simple visual language reminds us of Haring’s belief that, in order to create dialogue between people and bring them closer together, art needs to be direct and accessible.
Barking Dog © Keith Haring 1990
In 1990, Haring released a series of five embossings characterised by the focus on symbolism and the use of bold colours. The White Icons echo the previous series as each print displays only one symbol without employing any colours.
Flying Devil (white) © Keith Haring 1990
Reappropriating redemptive imagery and rejecting colours, White Icons are suffused with contrast between life and death, light and darkness, religion and sexuality. The purity of the image and powerful symbolism correspond strongly with Haring’s experience of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
Radiant Baby © Keith Haring 1990