Chocolate Buddha Keith Haring
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Depicted in the artist’s graphic, linear style, Keith Haring’s Chocolate Buddha series consists of five prints rendered in contrasting colours such as red, blue, orange and pink. Each print features a variety of figures, creatures and objects, their limbs intertwined to create complex, symmetrical patterns. Chocolate Buddha 3 is the only print in the series that is not symmetrical in composition.
Completed the year before Haring’s death, this series amalgamates the artist’s clear-line figurative style with more complex and integrated compositions to form a series of highly abstracted images. Recalling styles of the ancient world such as Eastern Mandalas and Australian Aboriginal art, the Chocolate Buddha series also shows influence from the European Modernists such as Miro, Klee and Matisse. This is notable from the way in which the prints focus on flat, richly coloured shapes and patterns that play out across the image surface.
Striking a balance between figuration and abstracting, Haring’s Chocolate Buddha series has a kinetic energy, produced through his use of jarring colours and complex patterns. The series has a compulsive quality that fills out across each print in the series that injects the static images with a sense of movement. Furthermore, there is an electric flow of line that is satisfying for the viewer to follow, emphasised by each print’s symmetrical composition. By limiting himself to the use of two tones in each print, and by using his trademark, bold, thick lines, this set of prints maintain the eye-catching simplicity that Haring is so famous for.
Haring’s Chocolate Buddha series is produced through the medium of lithography, a printing process that utilises a slab of stone or metal to apply ink that then repels the pigment onto fibrous material like paper. Unlike Haring’s more commercial screen printing method, this printing process dates back to the 18th century and has the capacity to produce exceptional detail across hundreds of multiples. Haring’s use of lithography as a method of printing worked to maintain the crisp edges and opaque sections of colour that make up his signature style.
Why is Chocolate Buddha important?
Explaining why many of his works resemble Aztec or Aboriginal art, Haring has said “My drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life,” something that he believed aligned with so-called primitive ideas. The Chocolate Buddha series is exemplary of this notion by forming a rhythmic, all-over composition that focuses on symmetry rather than realism. Thus, Haring produces a kinetic series of images that excite the viewer and transcend reality.
It is also important to note the way in which this series shows phallic and sperm-like motifs that seemingly move across each print, charging the series with a focus on male sexuality. Notably in Chocolate Buddha 3, Haring shows the ‘devil sperm’ motif, that is seen in many other later works like the Apocalypse series (1988). Haring directly correlates sexuality with death in his depiction of enormous horned sperm, a demoniacal personification of death in relation to the AIDS virus. In the later stage of his artistic career, themes around sex and HIV/AIDS dominated his work, just as it dominated Haring’s personal life after his own AIDS diagnosis in 1988.
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