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Art Bathing
Online Only    Every Other Thursday    One work
Keith Haring - Red-Yellow-Blue #20
“Art has no meaning because it has many meanings, infinite meanings”.
Keith Haring
The practice of drawing or writing on surfaces in the public space is as old as art itself. graffiti is an anthropological practice that signifies a democratic practice of informal expression commonly found in urban areas. The word Graffiti can etymologically be traced back to the Greek word graphein which simply means writing and to the Italian word graffito (scratch or inscription - singular) and graffiti (incised inscriptions -plural). graffiti became a generic term in 1856 with its coinage by Raphael Garrucci in his publication Graffiti de Pompei that depicted and tried to explain the non-official inscriptions and drawings in Pompei.

Especially popular in ancient Rome, it was commonly used to advertise gladiatorial games, sexual services, to ridicule someone, express political opinions or just to immortalize oneself. Traces of early practices can be found in various places throughout antiquity. For example, the city of Ephesus holds an advertisement for a brothel depicting a heart, a jug of wine and a foot that indicated the direction of the brothel cut into the marble pavement. The Alexamenos graffito (200 AD) in Rome depicts Jesus on the cross with the head of a donkey, ridiculing the early Christians and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul holds the carved runic inscription dated from 900 AD spelling out the Norse name Halvdan. One of the oldest examples of religious graffiti has just been uncovered in Vindolanda (UK) where a 1400- year-old chalice with Christian iconography was unearthed.

It was not until the 19th century that historic buildings became aesthetic sanctuaries that functioned as promotional instruments of established power and a shared national identity. This implicated an exclusion from its organic use in everyday life. On one hand this attitude of preservation saved buildings from any aesthetic altering’s and possible destruction but on the other transformed buildings into totems that nurtured nationalism and its rhetoric of a glorified past.
As a result, graffiti became an act of vandalism. Ignoring the insights that it revealed about the daily lives and opinions of our predecessors and contemporaries it was deemed a barbaric practice that separated the “cultivated” from the “uncultivated”. It is no coincidence that the popularisation of the notion vandalism, that was coined in 1794 by the bishop of Blois Henri Grégoirer, coincided with French Revolution and the runup to the pinnacle of European Imperialism.

Leaving a visual legacy that withstands the ravages of time, expressing - here I am – or – I was here - is a practice that is deeply ingrained in our most inner beings. As Keith Haring wrote in his journals:

“I am sure that what will live on after I die is important enough to make sacrifices of my personal luxury and leisure time. Work is all I have and art is more important than life.”

In the nineteen seventies and eighties the influence of graffiti sparked a new wave of figurative art. Responding to their social-political environments artists like Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat begun visually challenging the rusted notions of the so-called “primitive art”, high art and low art. Inspired by the democratic language of graffiti the artists unleashed visual debates on sexuality, capitalism, religion and technology upon the city dwellers that accompanied them throughout their daily lives.

Detail 1
Detail 2
”My drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life. That’s a much more so-called primitive idea, which is the reason that my drawings look like they could be Aztec or Egyptian pr Aboriginal… and why they have so much in common with them. It has the same attitude towards drawing: inventing images. You’re sort of depicting life, but you’re not trying to make it life-like.”
(C. Flyman. Interview with Keith Haring, September 26, 1980).
By the mid-eighties Keith Haring travelled, like many of his predecessors and contemporaries, to the modernist art capital Paris where he worked in the studio of his friend George Condo. Inspired by the primary colour palette of Mondrian, Léger and Calder and the “primitivist” influences that shaped the pioneering modern styles of Brancusi, Braque and Picasso, Haring created Red-Yellow-Blue, a series consisting of 26 canvasses. Exploring a variety of influences ranging from Maori tattoos, African dances and masks, Christian religion to Native American headdresses, this joyous portrait series is substantially different from his iconic unisex figures. For example, the series contains a portrayal of his last studio assistant Adolfo Arena but also portrayals of animals like a dancing Giraffe, a crucified fantasy creature with two heads and trunks that looks like an Indian goddess, a dancing robot, a hare with a tribal headdress and a dog with a trunk that is surrounded by bones.

Red-Yellow-Blue #20 looks like a modern adaptation of a Christian easter bunny, an Easter bunny with a sassy attitude to be exact. The hare, also a Christian symbol of new life, the virgin Mary and the holy trinity, gives the impression it was painted only minutes ago with the fresh paint still dripping of the canvas. With only a limited number of means, like the use of fluent lines, a colour palette consisting only of the primary colours + black and white and a merging of Christian & tribal iconography Haring playfully merges cultures and beliefs in order to address and challenge rusted views and stereotypes.
(Text by Drs. Quirine Verlinde)
KEITH HARING, Red-Yellow-Blue #20, 13 January 1987, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 36.2 × 24 inches, 92 × 61 cm
Warm regards,

Laszlo von Vertes & Team
Bahnhofstrasse 16
8001 Zürich Switzerland