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The Radiant (Christ) Child: Keith Haring and the Jesus Movement

Natalie E. Phillips
American Art
Vol. 21, No. 3 (Fall 2007), pp. 54-73
DOI: 10.1086/526480
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/526480
Page Count: 20
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Abstract

Keith Haring's pulsating, cartoon figures are immediately recognizable to most viewers and have become emblematic of the New York art world of the 1980s. Haring's art has been interpreted as an expression of the optimistic indulgence of this period, a representation of the New York club scene as well as homoerotic currents, and a visual tool for the campaign against AIDS. But one important aspect of his youthful experience has been largely overlooked—his 1970s engagement with the Jesus Movement. This teenage encounter left a powerful impact on Haring's overall ideologies and his pictorial vocabulary, beginning with the Radiant child “tag” he left in his early days as a graffiti artist. In his brief but intense painting career, he transformed source material from this charismatic religious group's visual culture into images that were relevant to his 1980s art world. In doing so, he retooled the Jesus Movement's redemptive imagery into more pessimistic and ambiguous statements—such as his figures with holes in their stomachs—and created an expression of apocalyptic belief suited to his time.