Bayer Suite Keith Haring
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The Bayer Suite series is an early work by Keith Haring depicted in his iconic linear style. The set of six screen prints were commissioned by Bayer AG on the occasion of the release of the heart medication ‘Sali-Adalat’ and consists of a variety of motifs on the theme of movement and the heart.
Across the series, Haring limits his colour palette to black, red and white, producing a highly simplified and stylised set of works. The simplistic form and positive visual language of the Bayer Suite recalls the artist’s early subway 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 – which earned him both notoriety and acclaim.
In this series Haring depicts a variety of genderless figures dancing, running and celebrating. Graphic, red lines radiate from the characters in each print, to create a pulsating effect that fills the series with a sense of joy, movement and dynamism. The Bayer Suite series bursts with energy and vigour, a key characteristic of Haring’s highly recognisable style that makes his work so appealing and unique.
Why is Bayer Suite important?
Much like fellow graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring reuses particular symbols throughout his artistic oeuvre to produce a memorable pictorial language. The central figure of Bayer Suite 3 resembles Haring’s famous angel icon, a winged figure with its arms and legs spread outwards. The angel motif is demonstrative of the way Haring shaped religious source material to reflect contemporary concerns of his generation and is used repeatedly by Haring, in works such as Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1984) and Anti-Nuclear Rally (1982).
Furthermore, in Bayer Suite 4, Haring shows an early rendering of his iconic ‘People Ladder’ motif used in his Growing series (1988), showing three figures, with one balancing on the arms of the other two to from a pyramid. The ‘People Ladder’ motif in Haring’s work has come to represent a tower of break dancers stacked on top of one another to convey a sense of joy and community in a way that reflected the artist’s love of hip hop emerging in New York City in the 1980s.
Imbued with kinetic energy, Haring’s highly symbolic figures like the one shown in Bayer Suite 5 were fundamental to his work that conveyed a variety of important themes that concerned contemporary life in 1980s New York. Taking influence from the Pop Art movement and artists like Andy Warhol, Haring utilised thick black lines and flattened picture plane to make his art accessible and engage with diverse audiences.
Throughout his career he worked extensively with print as a medium. Beginning with lithography he then turned to screen printing to concentrate on the possibilities the technique offered in terms of colour and large edition sizes. The Bayer Suite is an early example of Haring’s lithograph works. To make a lithograph the artist usually draws directly onto a stone or metal plate which is then dampened with water and covered in ink. The resulting image can be printed a number of times. This series, produced in an edition of 70, shows Haring’s complete mastery of the medium, his bold lines strikingly reproduced just as effectively as in his paintings.
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