Keith Haring: Revisiting his Early Years in 'Bombs and Dogs'
‘Bombs and Dogs’, currently on view at Deitch/Suzanne Geiss, explores Keith Haring’s early works ranging from large-scale drawings, canvases, vinyl tarps and objects which were produced between 1980-1984. The works contain themes inherent to Haring’s artistic philosophy – sexuality, spirituality and human relationships. This was a pivotal and crucial period for Haring, as he successfully evolved from a student at SVA to an overnight art superstar. Haring also experienced tremendous personal growth, coming of age as a young, gay man in a sexually intoxicating city. Yet also feeling increasingly vulnerable, lonely and insecure. It is also during this time that he forms fortuitous friendships with fellow peers like Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Tseng Kwong Chi, who would all go on to reach massive stardom in their own right. Haring also becomes a staple in the East Village avant-garde art scene, staging experimental performance art events with fellow artist friends at the Mudd Club and Club 57. His graffiti roots blossomed, as he began saturating the city with his subway chalk drawings, emblems consisting of barking dogs, radiant babies, UFOs, beaming hearts, Mickey Mouse, and other pop culture motifs. Haring also commences his studio practice, very rigorous and focused, and eventually seeks out eminent art dealer Tony Shafrazi to manage his accelerating career.
In this exhibit we see incredibly passionate and exuberant pieces and less of the highly political, activist-driven works that would emerge in the late ‘80s. In ‘Untitled, 1981’ and ‘Untitled, 1982’, both sumi ink on paper, human and canine figures interact in a frenzied composition, a possible reference to the social chaos of New York. In one of the vinyl tarp pieces, ‘Untitled, June 1982’, Haring invokes a religious energy, elements of penance and redemption playing against each other. In a large-scale canvas, male sexuality takes center stage, the focal point being a large phallus, fully erect and erupting with potency. Also on view are the collaborative works with fellow Lower East Side graffiti artist LA II. Two objects on display, a vase and a sculpture, showcases their complementary styles, which are both highly rhythmic and communicate a vibrant urban visual language.
The exhibit is presented by two long-time preservers of Haring’s legacy, Jeffrey Deitch and Suzanne Geiss. Deitch, the famed art dealer, writer and curator, has had a thirty-five year relationship with Haring’s work dating back to the Times Square show from 1980. His 1982 essay, ‘Why the Dogs are Barking’, was included in the catalog for the retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1997. Geiss oversaw Deitch Project’s representation of the Keith Haring Estate for more than thirteen years. Both Deitch and Geiss along with Julia Gruen co-authored the comprehensive monograph published by Rizzoli International in 2008. ‘Bombs and Dogs’ will be on view at Deitch/Suzanne Geiss through December 21, 2015.
This article originally appeared in Arte Fuse.