Bad Boys Keith Haring
Find out more about Keith Haring’s Bad Boys series, browse prints & editions for sale & view the works wanted by active buyers right now.
Bad Boys is a set of five screen prints that show explicit, sexually charged images of male homosexuality. Across the series, Haring maintains a specific frenzied, linear style forming a particularly striking example of the Pop artist’s ability to create complex images while maintaining the simplicity of line he is known for.
In this series, Haring depicts a variety of male figures in a highly energetic and expressive style. This emphasis on expression obscures their form to the point of ambiguity. The viewer is unable to distinguish between pattern and figure. At a time when homophobia was felt vividly in 1980s New York, this sense of ambiguity in line may have been deliberate. The frenzied lines also highlight the passion of the subject matter, charging each print with a sense of emotion.
Writing of Keith Haring in the catalogue for the artist’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1997, David Ross states that “His use of simplified figurative abstract forms and his highly graphic style gave his works an immediate character, the complexity of his puzzlelike constructions pulled the viewer deeply into a unique picture space. Haring’s art radiated energy and he carefully directed that energy beyond the confines of the art world.” This is evident in the Bad Boys series, a set of prints in black and white that recall Haring’s Subway Drawings from the early 1980s. His early drawings – executed in white chalk on the black paper panels put up before a new advertisement was pasted in place in the New York subway system –earned him both notoriety and acclaim. Harking back to earlier work like the subway drawings, this series emphasises Haring’s keen interest in maintaining an immediacy in his work even in this later stage of his artistic career.
Why is Bad Boys important?
The prints in Haring’s Bad Boys series show the various figures in an abstract visual language of frenzied black lines and a maze of elaborate designs. This can be perceived as an homage to the iconography of the Ecce Homo tradition in western art. Conversely, the works also represent Haring’s debt to non-western traditions, echoing the bold lines of Pre-Columbian art – especially those of Nazca lines – and aboriginal art. With this marriage of influences, the Stones series can be seen as the epitome of Haring’s hybrid style that knows no difference between high and low, ancient and modern, east and west. Haring conveys a unique sense of energy and optimism in this series through his use of freehand drawing methods that fill the interior of the figures’ bodies.
Haring’s Bad Boys series reflects the artist’s advocacy for LGBT+ rights against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The sexually explicit subject matter of Haring’s Bad Boys series is indicative of a turning point in the artist’s career, when the HIV/AIDS epidemic hit New York in the 1980s. Themes around sex and HIV/AIDS dominated the artist’s work, just as it dominated Haring’s personal life as he himself was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988, before his tragic death in 1990. Using sexually explicit subject matter and unambiguous phallic forms throughout the series as a whole, Bad Boys makes clear Haring’s celebration of his sexuality amidst turbulent socio-political circumstances.
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