‘Lick Boy Fat Art’: Keith Haring’s Language Art Decoded

by articulatenyc

A drawing from Haring’s journal dated August 27, 1982. ©Keith Haring Foundation.

A drawing from Haring’s journal dated August 27, 1982. ©Keith Haring Foundation.

“Art Boy Sin,” reads a sheet of graph paper from Keith Haring’s notebook.

“Fat Art Sin,” it continues.

“Sin Lick Boy.”

These phrases, penned neatly in black ink, were part of the script for Haring’s 1979 film Lick Fat Boys. In the video, the young artist reads off sequences that he created using letters from the title “First National Bank.” Each anagram is an allusion to New York’s gay subculture. The repetition continues until Haring ultimately forms the bawdy phrase for which the work is named.

Lick Fat Boys is one of more than 130 rarely viewed archival objects and artworks featured in the new exhibition “Keith Haring: Languages.” On view through February 28 at New York University’s Fales Library, the show focuses on text-based films, notes, collages, and sketches that Haring created in the late 1970s and early ’80s, shortly after moving to New York City. As the exhibition’s curator, Andrew Blackley, explains, these language studies “set the stage” for Haring to develop the iconic pictograms—barking dogs, intertwined male bodies, and happy, dancing people—for which he is known today.

On the pages of his notebooks, Haring worked to identify the limits of the written word and find a nonrestrictive language—one that would allow him to discuss topics that were, at that time, considered taboo. He performed operations on words, altering their form and questioning their value. He discovered clever ways to embed gay themes and vocabulary into a language that, in large part, excluded them. Read the full story on artnews.com!