Monday, November 2, 2009

Keith Haring's Radiant Baby

Despite the social activism that is commonly associated with the AIDS and gay rights movement and Haring's artwork, one of his most famous pieces, the "Radiant Baby" actually derives its origin from Christianity. Although Keith Haring was raised in a Protestant household, he encountered and voluntarily joined the 1970s "Jesus Movement" in his youth. Its followers were known as the "Jesus People," or more commonly "Jesus Freaks." The movement was evangelical and their message was to spread the word of Christ. It was predominately anti-church and anti-fundamentalist, and was also characterized by their anti-materialism and extreme compassion for the poor.

By his late teens, Haring's involvement with the Jesus Movement ended, but it still left an influential mark on his art. Haring's "Radiant Baby" is also named the "Radiant Child" or "Radiant Christ." The Radiant Baby first appeared in his work as a subway artist in which he used the piece as his "tag" or signature in most of his works. Haring described the Radiant Baby as the "purest and most positive experience of human existence." Though the image is clearly an influence of the great impact of his ideology and religion, it is also a vague and ambiguous interpretation, drawing roots from its "redemptive imagery into more pessimistic and ambiguous statements." It is largely symbolic of "Haring's hope for the future and also his continuing interest in the Messianic powers of Jesus. "

The image's religious connotation is evident from a comparison to the Mexican representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe:

The drawing of the child with energized rays emanating from its body is a well known convention of religious art, popular in Medieval and Renaissance paintings.

The Mexican representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe also illustrates energized rays emanating from its body.
"These lines radiating from the body indicate spiritual light glowing from within, as though the baby was a holy figure was a religious painting."

The Radiant Baby is also directly linked to Christ, and thereby recognized as the "Radiant Christ" in many of Haring's other artwork. In many of his pieces of subway art, Haring directly placed the Radiant Baby in a Nativity scene complete with a manger, shepards, and Magi.

The Radiant Baby has been used many different contexts of Haring's work. Another popular, but directly contrasting image to the "Radiant Christ" is one of the Radiant Baby sitting atop a nuclear mushroom; an image used in antinuclear rallies by Haring himself.

The mushroom cloud not only signifies death, but also the religious connotation of destruction and the final apocalypse.

Haring noted in a 1982 interview that many people “think they can see the aura of a radioactive or electric baby” in the figure of the Radiant Child. In addition to its appearance on the poster, the baby served as the symbol on an antinuclear button. These usages link the image to nuclear holocaust and, in Haring's experience, most likely to the Jesus People's views on Revelation. Haring acknowledged reading this biblical text, which contains many powerful images of fire destroying the Earth. Revelation 8:7–10 describes three angels, much like the trio featured in his antinuclear poster, who usher in a series of apocalyptic events. The first angel blew his trumpet and “there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, which fell on the earth; and a third of the earth was burnt up, and a third of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” The second angel's trumpet signaled the burning of a mountain, which, when thrown into the sea, consumed it with fire as well. Then the third angel blew his trumpet and “a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch.” Evaluating these passages from a twentieth‐ century perspective, it is easy to see how Haring could have related the imagery to nuclear holocaust and used the biblical descriptions as inspiration for his antinuclear poster. By placing the Radiant Child on the top of a mushroom cloud, he suggested the destruction of the child and the purity associated with it. This tragic annihilation of innocence alludes to the contention that the evil prevalent among pre‐apocalyptic people would be the catalyst for the Battle of Armageddon. The dualistic meaning of this motif can be seen in an alternative interpretation: the image of the baby accompanied by angels could also represent Christ's predicted descent from heaven just before the Battle of Armageddon (represented by the mushroom cloud), in which he saves his righteous followers. The ambivalent meaning of the Radiant Child is characteristic of Haring's art. The viewer is unsure whether the baby is being consumed by the flames or saving mankind. Haring shaped his religious sources to reflect his contemporary concerns about the end of the world.


  1. Keith Haring Radiant baby is very nice. Thanks for Sharing this with us.

  2. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. yeah i think god is more worried with war or hunger than with love between people but yeah keep telling yourself that being gay is a sin cause that's exactly what the bible teaches us right? to hate people for who they are

    3. the bible said "men and boy" meaning young and old not specifically gay is a sin, being gay isn't a choice it is how someone is born they just need to figure that out for themselves. we can't change or prevent that from happening.

  3. Anyone know where I can find an earring of the baby. I had them in black

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  5. Uniqlo carries this print on a tee in gold. Love to have this context for it! Especially the piece about it's ambivalence. Telling.

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  7. I have Keith's radiant baby tattoo'd on my left calf. As a gay graffiti artist myself with a christian background, keith has always been one of my favorite most influential artists. I loved the detailed write up on this signature of his!

  8. anyone one know what he did the image in?

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