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The Artists of The 80s: A Desire for Universality and A Search for the Sublime 
Get inspired 05 Mar 2022

The Artists of The 80s: A Desire for Universality and A Search for the Sublime 

80s art
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1984

The 1980s marked strong innovations in the artistic field with the democratization of color photography. While some artists were fascinated by aesthetic research, others focused on political claims. But many of them are united in one point. Through different and sometimes opposing approaches, 80s art translates a deep desire for universalism and tolerance. Artsper invites you to discover the artists who marked this electric era!

Keith Haring, 80s art in the heart of the city

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1985
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1985

An emblematic figure of 80s, Keith Haring revolutionized art’s place in the street. Wishing to offer art to as many people as possible, he blanketed New York City with his colorful works. Since he made his public paintings in the light of day, he was arrested many times, but he always started again. In his eyes, art must leave the museums and invade the public space, to be given to and created by all.

In addition to being a committed artist, Haring was also extremely prolific. Driven by an insatiable passion, he was able to paint up to 50 paintings a day. And while his work may seem lighthearted at first glance, it actually reveals a fierce activism. His vivid colors and naive forms reflect a sharp critique of the society of his time. Addressing Apartheid, nuclear power, racism and dictatorships, he also became an LGBTQIA+ icon through his outspoken fight against AIDS. If one had to summarize this era, Haring‘s 80s paintings would certainly be one of the best epitomes.

Martin Parr, the eyes of popular culture

80s art
© Martin Parr, Magnum Photos, Ramsgate, Kent, 1986

A storytelling photographer, Martin Parr has revolutionized documentary photography with his double vision. His photographs combine an extreme proximity and a great detachment, almost as if he were photographing an unknown world. Fascinated by the working classes, he has been portraying them since the 1980s with irony and tenderness. Capturing the everyday, he reveals the absurdities of a society where ultra-consumerism generates disappointments, aberrations and frustrations. Photographing crowded seaside resorts, Sunday parties and shopping malls, his pictures denounce as much as they inspire a smile. Through his lens, the excesses of mass tourism or family reunions take on a whole new look and meaning.

Robert Mapplethorpe, in pursuit of the sublime

80s art by robert mapplethorpe
Robert Mapplethorpe, Lisa Lyon, 1982

Within only twenty years, Robert Mapplethorpe defined 80s art and photography. Striving for aesthetic perfection, his poetic work explores the sublime. Transgressive and angelic, subjugated by beauty and ugliness, timeless yet anchored in his time, Mapplethorpe fascinates viewers. From the 1980s onwards, he focused on the nude through which he reproduced and defied classical norms. Until his premature death in 1989, he redoubled his efforts to mark his time. Despite a tragic end with AIDs, he succeeded in this challenge as an emblematic figure of photography today.

Pierre et Gilles, between dreams and reality

Pierre et Gilles, Gai Paris, Jean-Paul et Andréas , 1988
Pierre et Gilles, Gai Paris, Jean-Paul et Andréas , 1988

Since 1976, French artists and lovers, Pierre and Gilles created magnificent hand-painted photographs. Fascinated by popular aesthetics and the representation of religious icons, Pierre and Gilles constructed a fairytale world on glossy paper. By exploring the ways in which humanity represented the sacred, they invented their own popular culture imagery. In the 1980s, they traveled the world, gradually bringing their fresh perspective to their art. Since then, they have been creating works in which the model and the setting are in perfect osmosis. Beyond offering us an almost erotic aestheticism, Pierre and Gilles convey a message of peace and universal love. Fundamentally optimistic and yet anchored in reality, their works carry an enchanting existence into poetry. In short, they fashioned a more beautiful, more magical and wonderful reality.

80s art, exalted yet furious

The 1980s are characterized by strong violence, but also by a bubbling creative effervescence. On the one hand, AIDS was devastating a part of the population, as witnessed by the tragic deaths of Haring and Mapplethorpe.  On the other hand, individual and sexual freedom continued to thrive. At the same time, racism, poverty and violence persisted in the capitals as well as the smallest towns. Night life was in full swing, while tourism was growing. Comfort, technology and innovation collectively flourished. 80s art expresses all the power of this era: a decade where the marvelous frolics with the cruel.


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