When you think of the work of Keith Haring, it’s probable that unless you know a great deal about him, you’ll envision it all as being rather similar, brightly colored graffiti-style artifacts with faceless outline-homunculi thrusting their fists into the air and crawling babies and barking dogs with wiggly motion lines, perhaps on a Swatch? CRACK IS WACK: we’ve all seen it.
Well, as is true of nearly all artists, Haring’s signature style didn’t emerge fully formed, and there is a lot of work from his younger years that isn’t much like that at all. While this tendency never really left him, Haring started out as something closer to a standard-issue agit-prop street artist and collagist, one with a huge debt to Warhol, whom he later befriended. In 1980, already having acquired some reputation as a street artist, Haring briefly adopted a style in which he manipulated choice phrases from the cover of the New York Post to create bizarre new headlines in which his most hated public figures (Ronald Reagan and the Pope) became the butt of the joke. In a text that can be found in Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography by John Gruen, Haring wrote:
The most notorious of my street pieces were the ones that looked like the front page of the New York Post. I’d cut out letters from the Post and rearrange them to make fake headlines, like REAGAN SLAIN BY HERO COP or POPE KILLED FOR FREED HOSTAGE or MOB FLEES AT POPE RALLY. I Xeroxed these in the hundreds and I’d paste them on lampposts and on newsstands. Because they looked so real, people were forced to confront them. They were completely confused—and the posters really made a mark, because they got into people’s consciousness.
When I lived in New York, my housemates and I would frequently joke about strange turns of phrase that we would see in the New York Post. For better or worse, the deathless tabloid represents the pinched and chauvinistic and intolerant side of the city, and it does that pretty damn well. The fact that you probably knew EXACTLY how a New York Post cover treatment of any subject looks and feels before you even looked at any of the pictures in this post is a testament to their nauseating skill at getting people riled up, and the damn thing is probably as iconic as Mount Fuji and may well last as long as it, too.
Here are a bunch of those, I believe all of these date from 1980.
Obviously this is the original taped-together collage version of the one above it, in Xerox form.
In 1985 Madonna and Sean Penn got married. Madonna was a new star at that time, and there was plenty of reason to believe that she was not a world-dominating superstar of the epoch but most probably a somewhat titillating pop star who had managed a couple-three good hits. Penthouse and Playboy published some naked pictures of her that she had posed for some years earlier, and in typical awesome Madonna fashion, she just shrugged the whole thing off, and the Post socked it to her, which had the benefit of goosing their own older and conservative readership.
Madonna and Haring knew each other pretty well, and Haring took Andy Warhol along to the wedding as his +1. They worked together on a series of six fucked-with Post covers addressing Madonna’s shocking behavior to give the new Mrs. Penn as a wedding present; they do kind of resemble a perfect cross-section of Haring’s and Warhol’s work.
Newsweek photo from the coverage of Madonna’s wedding. Supposedly Madonna was annoyed that her artsy wedding presents got divulged to the public.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Keith Haring’s remarkably uninhibited erotic mural at the LBGT Community Center
Keith Haring tequila bottles