Keith Haring’s Growing suite was done in 1988, just one year after he was diagnosed with HIV and two years before his death at age 31. Haring was extremely active during these final years, creating pieces that celebrate life.
The series is done in his iconic bold lines and primary color palette. Like so many of his prolific pieces, the subjects can be compared to modern glyphs or cave paintings, with each stylized symbol representing an element of life.
In Growing 1, Haring creates a totem of human figures stacked on top of each other. Motion lines surround the humanoid and are more carefully arranged around the top figure’s head, alluding to an enlightenment or realization. The figures are all stemming from an individual at the bottom, before breaking the cycle and becoming fully realized at the peak. The bottom figures are said to represent social categories such as gender, race, class, and sexuality, with the top figure representing one’s true self, free from society’s reach. Haring frequently used his art as a means of activism for causes he believed in and was an outspoken advocate for equality and gay rights.
Growing 2 also depicts a human tower, this time with many different figures branching off of one in a number of different directions. While Growing 1 shows a single figure being transformed out of one, Growing 2 can be said to represent the power an individual has to liberate and enlighten others. One of Haring’s main goals was to democratize art and make it accessible to anyone. With so much of Haring’s works stemming from the streets and subway system, he was able to spread his message to anyone who passed by. By bringing art to the people, Haring was able to touch many lives and became a voice for the emerging generation.
Haring’s Growing 5 is a more symmetrical piece showing multiple figures engaging in different poses. The individual at the center seems to be shielding the headless figures that bow down at its side. A broad yellow figure hovers over the scene below, with its arms extended in a protective position. This piece could represent the unconscious state much of society lives in, blinding accepting what’s being given to them as reality. The yellow figure that is suspended above can be seen as society, shielding the public from the truth. The red figure at the center of the piece appears to be fighting the overarching influence of the figure above it and defending the blue figures from its reach. This could represent Haring himself, trying to administer a cultural awakening.
In a 1980 interview, Keith Haring said, “My drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life.” In his Growing suite, Haring imagines a fully liberated and enlightened world. An alternate reality is created through the figures, working out the grievances he had within the social climate he lived in. In Haring’s world, the people are willing to accept the truth and listen to the messages he is trying to voice. He celebrates a life free from social bindings and awakened from harmful illusions.
View the entire Growing collection here.