Kat Murrell
Visual Art

Apocalypse Now 

Keith Haring’s Apocalypse Series has a vibrant, end-of-the-world quality.

By - May 30th, 2014 02:44 pm
From Keith Haring’s “Apocalypse Series,” on view at RedLine Milwaukee.

From Keith Haring’s “Apocalypse Series,” on view at RedLine Milwaukee.

“Skyscrapers scrape rents of blue and white paint from the sky, shredding, peeling, nitrous ochres and red eat through bridges, which fall into the rivers splashing color across – my back I always hear – piers, streets AMOK art. Hurry up please, it’s time.”

Writer William Burroughs utters this recurring refrain in his literary counterpart to artist Keith Haring’s Apocalypse Series, now showing at RedLine Milwaukee.  Haring, who died of AIDS complications in 1990, is most well-known for his spirited graffiti work. His drawings moved from the subway tunnels to the art galleries, but he kept a connection to the underground, the subversive and the street. His most characteristic figures are cartoon-like line drawings of crawling babies, dogs, angels and dancers activated by slashing lines of movement. But his Apocalypse Series, as the name suggests, is darker work: more nuanced, detailed, sinuous and sinister.

But what does that mean, this apocalypse? Burroughs’ opening salvo celebrates the god Pan, aligned with the quality of panic or abandon. This is not necessarily wanton destruction or the total abandonment of restraint, but the freedom that comes from breaking apart and the revelation of all possibilities. Burroughs’ language describes the collapse of a city, the rapid decay of infrastructure. The subway is a recurring metaphor, its formulaic routine transformed into an unstoppable train of unpredictable nature. Burroughs, in the voice of Pan, urges it on with a literary shout, “OFF THE TRACK! OFF THE TRACK!”

Text by William Burroughs accompanying Haring’s “Apocalypse Series.”

Text by William Burroughs accompanying Haring’s “Apocalypse Series.”

Haring is similarly energized, and his bright colors have a sharply pained edge. The cursory view of his prints at first feels gleeful, but this is quickly tempered by black silhouettes of haunting, uncertain figures, piles of fragile bodies, and lines pouring down pages like black tears.

Haring occasionally collages images of religious figures in the background who watch over the cacophonous proceedings. The saintly, regal photographs are docile, aloof, unmoved by the plight of the twisting human figures around them. Even the traditions of art, as represented by the Mona Lisa, offer only a locked door when searching for solace. In one piece by Haring, the Mona Lisa is inserted into a composition and enhanced with black x’s over her eyes. She offers no sympathy, there is no comfort in her placid presence. These collaged details, self-assured in their visual perfection and art historical pedigree, don’t have the raw grit and spirit of Haring’s bold lines and gestures. They seem powerless  amidst his chaos.

The production of this series in 1988 may also have had another influence. The AIDS epidemic was ravaging New York’s art scene, which

From Keith Haring’s “Apocalypse Series,” on view at RedLine Milwaukee.

From Keith Haring’s “Apocalypse Series,” on view at RedLine Milwaukee.

Haring was deeply immersed in, and the disease was a mysterious killer. Desire and death become linked in Haring’s thinly veiled allusions to sex and biology.

Tough stuff, but Haring has such a natural buoyancy in his quality of line and color that while he can take you down into strange depths and you can still come back to the surface. He is an apt Virgil, leading us like Dante on a scenic tour of the underworld.

Keith Haring: The Apocalypse Series continues through July 19 at RedLine Milwaukee (1422 N. 4th Street).





Delightful Shelf-Indulgence 

One of the things that Portrait Society Gallery director Debra Brehmer does really well is orchestrate multiple complementary shows throughout her gallery space. The current exhibitions at Portrait Society exemplify this with the recurring presence of that most humble and literally put-upon receptacle of domestic life: the shelf.

It makes a pretty handy device for discreetly focusing our attention. A shelf is a platform of a stage in which objects are actors. Their meaning, purpose, and visual interest is modified by other objects selectively placed in proximity to them.

“Untitled” from Arrangements: Keith Nelson, on view at Portrait Society Gallery.

“Untitled” from Arrangements: Keith Nelson, on view at Portrait Society Gallery.

Keith Nelson is represented by a number of works in the solo exhibition, Arrangements, and joined by 11 other artists in Guest Composers. He is an elegantly minimalist modernist. The things he puts together in largely angular, geometric assemblages all started out with former lives somewhere — packing material, lunch cartons, table tops, what have you. Each is repurposed with an eye for the visual and their ability to contribute to the aesthetic spirit within the group Nelson orchestrates. All done on a shelf, of course.

Arrangements: Keith Nelson and Guest Composers, in addition to Shelfie: A Portrait Society project of self via shelf and Rural Utopia: Watercolors from Blotchy Blobs Blog by J. Shimon continue through July 5. Portrait Society Gallery is located on the 5th floor of the Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo Street.






Breehan James 

Tory Folliard Gallery

233 N. Milwaukee Street

Artist reception 5-7:30pm

Exhibition continues through July 3.

Feeling a little outdoorsy? This might be just the exhibition for you, as the paintings and watercolors of Breehan James evoke the rugged life of a hunting camp and the solitude of wild nature.


“Beth’s Birds” by Karen Halt, on view at Elaine Erickson Gallery.

“Beth’s Birds” by Karen Halt, on view at Elaine Erickson Gallery.

Karen Halt: Birds and Beasts of Uncommon Beauty

Elaine Erickson Gallery

Marshall Building, 1st Floor

207 E. Buffalo Street

Exhibition closes May 31.

In paint and textiles, artist Karen Halt creates imagery drawn from familiar details, but enhanced by a slightly surrealistic re-imagining of worlds inhabited by animals and people.

0 thoughts on “Visual Art: Apocalypse Now ”

  1. Anonymous says:

    This line from the Apocalypse show (in your review), “the freedom that comes from breaking apart and the revelation of all possibilities” is wildly intriguing to me!

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