He was a human Roman candle, a frenetic elfin graffiti artist who burst upon the New York scene in 1980 and quickly became one of the city's most celebrated talents. Serious about art since he was a kid in Kutztown, Pa., Keith Haring insisted on making art accessible to all, and to that end he used the walls along city streets and subway stations as his gallery. His deceptively simple visual language used bouncy stick figures to convey a wide array of situations and emotions, and the city and the world responded. In 1986 alone, his work appeared in more than 40 solo and group exhibitions. Yet, even as he became an acclaimed painter and sculptor, his style retained its original character, a breezy, punchy lightness of line especially evident in these colorful silkscreen prints at Loyola. A representative survey of his brilliant but brief career, they were loaned by local collectors and Loyola alums Stuart H. Smith and Barry J. Cooper.
Perhaps because they convey something of the ephemeral immediacy we associate with graffiti art — a trait he shares with acclaimed contemporary street artists such as Banksy and Katharina Grosse — his work seems surprisingly current. His Andy Mouse (pictured) portrait of his friend, Andy Warhol, as Mickey Mouse wearing sunglasses and standing on a pile of greenbacks, makes a point about contemporary art commercialism that could just as easily be applied to Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, our prevailing geniuses du jour. A few are more topical and dated, but much of his work touches on themes that are universal or ongoing, like his fascination with flying saucers, an obsession shared by many Americans. His incandescent career abruptly ended with his 1990 death from AIDS-related complications, but his spirit lives on in fans like Smith and Cooper, and a new wave of artists who continue to blur the boundaries between art and life as it is experienced on city streets. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Keith Haring: A Print Retrospective 1982-1990
Through Jan. 29
Collins Diboll Gallery, Loyola Univerity, 6363 St. Charles Ave, 861-5456; www.loyno.edu/dibollgallery