Keith Haring on his hometown

Though he ultimately left Pennsylvania’s flat farmlands and stone houses for the hip and noisy environs of New York’s West Village, Haring wrote in his posthumously published diaries, Keith Haring: Journals (2010), that “Kutztown has its good points. Excessive amounts of love and sanity. Precise order. Fresh air. A different background noise … still a hum but a softer, more natural buzz. Time to contemplate, time to reflect and dream.”
If you had conformed to your parents’ expectations, what would you have been like?
We were in a little, conservative town. You grew up there, went to high school there, stayed there, married someone from there, had kids there, and your kids stayed, too. I had been a good little kid. My parents had taken us to church and things like that, but I became this little Jesus freak, and my parents were appalled. I had fallen into the movement out of a lack of any other thing to believe in and out of wanting to be part of something. Part of deciding I wanted to try drugs was realizing that it was time to start thinking for myself instead of blindly following just to be part of a group.

Why portrait painting is important (now)

Dushko Petrovich on why portrait painting is gaining in reputation, even before the unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obama's official portraits. 

So why is portraiture returning now? For one, there is an institutional urgency to speak to a more diverse audience with painting that depicts the black community, the Asian-American experience, the Latino face, to attract the various people who had been excluded from the museum by remaking the history of figurative painting, this time with color. Not that the trend toward realist portraits is exclusive to artists of color. It is evident in the rococo renderings of Sam McKinniss, who paints pop culture figures — Prince, Lorde, Flipper — like hallowed aristocrats. It was clear in a series of self-portraits by Justin Vivian Bond — who is best known for experimental cabaret performances — that were displayed at the New Museum last fall, and seemed to casually but definitively announce Bond’s identity as a trans artist.

And there is another reason for figurative paintings’ resurgence as well: We live in a time in which reality is almost daily warped in ways that were unimaginable even 18 months ago. We have swiftly entered an era where the very notion of truth, or facts, is considered fungible. As we reassess the various power structures that landed us here, it is stabilizing and reassuring to look at the work of an artist who is clearly in control of her craft, who is able to depict a reality that is material and grounded in recognition — of seeing, in the Facebook age, a painting that looks like who it is meant to.

'I love that question'

In Mousse Magazine, the artists Julia Phillips and Aaron Gilbert converse about each others' art, some of their inspiration...and this section on evil and love. As with many conversations captured for print, the questions are as interesting as the answers. 

Aaron Gilbert…These pieces could be described as artifacts that have a sole purpose of committing evil acts. Do you believe in evil? Which is a certain inverse of saying: Do you believe in the sacred?

JP: I do believe in evil acts. And I am interested in what drives us humans to commit them. Forceful transgressions of boundaries being one example. Self-serving manipulation being another. And both are based on the idea that—not necessarily sacred—but ethical acts are led by the understanding that the human body, as well as the psyche, shall be maintained in their wellness. I like to think of evil as one end of the spectrum of the human psyche’s capacity. I believe that we have it within us and have ideas for it. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a market for horror movies and thrillers. A fascination...

Julia Phillips: Are you consciously depicting alternative, counter images for pop-cultural depictions of love? Our youth culture obsession conversation comes to mind. And the question of the need for love, and the kind of love as something that matures with us as we go through different ages in our lives. The images easily accessible and brought to us through media in an overflow are the ones of youth culture. Is your work a reaction to a drought?

AG: I love that question. I think love fills this profound need at all stages of our lives, and the nature of how we need it shifts as a newborn, as a young child, as someone elderly. I’m weary of the way youth culture is placed front and center in the art world...In the end, it’s a question of where we place value. Of all the pop songs in the past twenty years, how many of them place the voice or the needs of a young child or an elderly person at the center? I’m sure I’m missing a few outliers, but it feels like we have to go back to Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder with this one (“They Don’t Care About Us” and “Earth Song” at least felt age-neutral). I think we often are too narrow in who we give voice to in our narratives. There’s room for a fuller breadth of human experience, and I pose this mostly to myself as a question of what work I should be making in the present.

'More artistic than most typical official portraits'

Slate speaks to Richard J. Powell, a professor of art and art history at Duke University and an expert in the history of black portraiture, about the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, which were unveiled recently

Rachelle Hampton: So what did you think of the portraits and of the Obamas’ choice of artists? 

Richard Powell: I was surprised by the portraits and what I mean by that is, I found them to be more artistic than most typical official portraits are. If you go to the National Portrait Gallery and look at portraits of famous people, they tend to be real vanity pictures and often by artists who are able to do a likeness but they’re not able to really make what I would consider a profound artistic statement. There are lots of great portraits out there, but these are really strong works of art as well as portraits. 

As to the choice of the artists, I thought it was special. Amy Sherald has been in the pipeline for a little while, but not as long as Kehinde Wiley, and so choosing to place someone I would still call up and coming alongside someone I would certainly call a veteran was inspired. 

What statements do you think the artists are trying to make here? What do you think they’re trying to communicate? 

Well, I want to separate them out. I want to start with the Michelle Obama portrait: It’s very much in Sherald’s style, which are these figures that are often placed on very flat backgrounds. She experiments with chroma so that the figures are not necessarily representing things in a realistic way, but they provide an interesting relationship of one color to another to another. What I was struck by in the Michelle Obama portrait was the graphic quality of it, and when I say graphic I mean that the dress is this dramatic abstract statement—the patterns in it, the bold shapes, the limited color palette—and that has an interesting way of interacting with Mrs. Obama’s figure, her famous arms are there, and they frame her head. Amy Sherald really is attuned to the interrelationship between the body and a pose and the accoutrements that surround that pose, in this case a very bold dress