Retrospect (1989) by Keith HaringNakamura Keith Haring Collection
Born in Pennsylvania, Kieth Haring later made his name as a street artist in early 80s New York, spray-painting subway cars and street walls, synthesising cultures as broad as hip-hop, the Grateful Dead, and the Jesus Movement.
In 1982, when Haring made the leap from graffiti artist to gallery artist, he retained his visual street-lingo and began building a cast of characters and a host of symbols. Retrospect (1989) collects many of them together, including the beloved dancing dog.
Funky, fun, and just a little absurd, Haring's system of symbols conjures a sense of motion, rhythm, alternate-reality. Stick figures engage in all kinds of activity. This one's riding a dolphin.
Haring called his symbols 'icons'. They allowed him to deal with themes as light as 'dance' and as heavy as the AIDS crisis. Always dynamic, the icons often carry an implicit threat. Take this pair of scissors, for example.
The arms look like two figures clapping over their heads, joined in the middle, marrying function and celebration. But can we trust the sharp points, the act of severance, or the sense of power and propaganda that a ribbon-cutting suggests?
One of Haring's most popular motifs is the Radiant Child. Brought up in the United Church, Haring was alive to the sense of community and spirituality of the church, but, as a gay man, was also a vocal critic of intolerance and indoctrination. The innocent baby expresses this.
In this section, two figures high-five through the body of a third. It's classic Haring, cool and vibey but unsettling. Violence done to bodies was a chief concern of his as he used art to campaign against homophobia and raise awareness of AIDS, from which he sadly died in 1990.