White Icons Keith Haring
Find out more about Keith Haring’s White Icons series, browse prints & editions for sale & view the works wanted by active buyers right now.
White Icons is a set of five prints from 1990 each showing a single symbol 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.
Why is White Icons important?
The lack of colour in this series works to reveal the way in which brightly coloured commercial images can easily be stripped of their appeal. Haring used his art to oppose the negative effects of capitalism and mass consumerism, undoubtedly inspired by the Pop Art movement of the 1960s and his friend, Andy Warhol. This work bridges the gap between high art and mass consumerism so as to dissolve boundaries between fine art, political activism and popular culture.
The White Icons series is notable for its reworking of traditional Christian iconography to critique organised religion and the government amidst the HIV/AIDS epidemic of 1980s New York. Rooted in his encounter with the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, prints like the White Icons Radiant Baby, White Icons Angel and White Icons Flying Devil, are demonstrative of the way the artist shapes religious source material to reflect contemporary concerns of his generation. Haring’s use of redemptive imagery overflows with paradoxical themes like life and death, good and evil, religion and sexuality, heaven and hell, to speak to the ambiguities and socio-political injustices of the time.
By the time of his death, Haring had produced so many prints that the exact number has become impossible to count. There are many unsigned editions on the market, though these tend only to be considered valuable if approved by the Keith Haring Foundation. Today his prints are frequently among the most sought after multiples on the market.
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