Composed in 1983, Keith Haring and Juan Dubose is a tender and haunting diptych of the artist Keith Haring and his friend and lover Juan Dubose by Andy Warhol. Recalling his Marilyn Diptych from 1962, the present work embodies a number of captivating dualities. A muted, hypnagogic monochrome image of the couple is paired with a startling spectrum-inverted portrait of blue and red. The slippages and shadows of silkscreen are masterfully combined by Warhol with glaring camera flash and studio lighting to create a number of interior dualities in the figures. Apparently extending the outline of his head, face and torso, Haring’s shadow casts a penumbral alter ego of impenetrable black in the one portrait and fluorescent red in the other. In this latter portrait, the eyes of the figures assume an alien, almost demonic aspect, and Dubose’s embrace of Haring – so gentle in its monochrome doppelgänger – becomes underlain with a sinister aura. With his signature uncanny prescience and projection of fluorescence onto the morbid, Warhol creates a bipartite portrait of Haring and Dubose that tells of at once the fondness of their relationship, the inconsistencies beneath romantic love, their tragically premature deaths by AIDS, and the garish insensitivity of the mediated relay of these events. With the distorting shift from the first portrait to the next, Warhol foretells too the trajectory of posterity. Confronted with what Roland Barthes describes as ‘l’amour comme trésor’ (love as treasure), the viewer sees in Keith Haring and Juan Dubose an achingly transient mutual love that, while temporarily sheltered in intersubjective memory, has begun the inevitable slip into oblivion entailed by our entropic and indifferent universe.
Moreover, Warhol deliberately embeds dualities in the present work in order to reflect those in Haring’s aesthetic and character. Haring’s career is bookended by an obsession with the erotic, vaudeville grotesquerie of William S. Burroughs, beginning with parodic New York Post headlines inspired by Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and ending with the 1988 collaboration Apocalypse. Haring’s dark appropriation of Catholic iconography aligns him with Warhol, who subjected such imagery to the processes of silkscreen printing and serialisation so prevalent in the mass media culture that he fetishised. This side to Haring’s aesthetic is tinged with a devilish hedonism, deriving a Beat-infused joy in the neon squalor of post-War America. While the true causes of human choice remain forever obscure to us, the decline of Haring and Dubose’s relationship is often attributed to Haring’s rampant sexual promiscuity and ‘unfaithfulness’ to his partner. Yet there was also an extremely sensitive, selfless and positivistic side to Haring: a side that believed in the possibility of progress and the importance of social justice movements. A prominent activist, Haring distributed 20,000 antinuclear posters at a demonstration in Central Park in 1982, launched his ‘Anti-Litterpig’ campaign two years later, and in 1986 painted the famous ‘Crack is Wack’ mural to raise awareness of New York’s crack cocaine epidemic. Moving and poignant, Keith Haring and Jean Dubose captures this volatile bothness in Haring’s character.
The range and impact of Warhol’s portraiture cannot be overstated. Warhol is perhaps even primarily known for his status as night-walking, camera-wielding socialite; a wry and knowing journalist of the fluctuating faces of the New York art scene. Warhol’s most powerful works –including Liz (1965), Brigitte Bardot (1974) and Self-portrait (diptych) (1964) – share all of the important formal qualities of Keith Haring and Juan Dubose, placing the present work in a highly coveted and illustrious body of work.
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