“Art is a testimony”: Three creatives embody the spirit of Keith Haring and advocate for important causes
Martcellia Liunic, James Vinciguerra and Gabriel Massan were each tasked with using Adobe’s new library of Keith Haring brushes to produce an artwork that embodies a cause close to their heart.
Art, at its best, is an incredible vessel for change, and countless artists choose to use their practice as a means of spreading positive messages and challenging the norm. Keith Haring was one such artist, who, through his street art advocated for HIV and AIDs awareness, and promoted safe sex amongst other vital themes. His works were visually pleasing and eye-catching, but more importantly, they were imbued with an important message, making Haring as much an activist as he was an artist. To celebrate the iconic artist’s work, we’ve teamed up with Adobe to commission three international creatives to produce an artwork that communicates a cause they feel passionately about, in turn, spreading positivity through their work.
The project comes off the back of Adobe’s work with the Keith Haring Foundation, digitising Haring’s tools to be used for free in Adobe Fresco and Photoshop. Each artist was given carte blanche in terms of their chosen theme, with the possibility to talk about the environment, inclusivity, education, equality or whatever else piqued their interest. The only stipulation was that they had to use the new library of brushes, embodying the spirt and aesthetic of Haring’s work in their outcome.
The library of brushes marks Adobe’s continued commitment to champion the work of great artists, bringing it to creatives across the world. As well as providing creatives with Haring’s tools at their disposal, Adobe is running a contest, asking the creative community to use his brushes in Adobe Fresco or Photoshop to “draw a line for good” by creating an artwork promoting positive change. Eight winners will receive $5,000 (or your local equivalent), a one year Creative Cloud membership and will have their work featured worldwide at Adobe MAX. You can submit your artwork here – submissions close close at midnight on 29 September and winners will be announced at Adobe MAX on 20-22 October.
But first, here’s how Martcellia Liunic, James Vinciguerra and Gabriel Massan got on with the same brief, to give you a little inspiration…
Based in Jakarta is creative polymath Martcellia Liunic, the first creative up on this unhampered brief, or as Marcellia describes it “fun and encouraging”. After spending around a day defining her concept, sketching rough ideas from the off, she landed on the topic of top productivity. “As creatives, we’re making new stuff every day, we’re looking at our amazing peers and how they make wonderful stuff and we get this unconscious pressure of trying to be productive all the time,” she explains, something that she’s sure all creatives have experienced at some point in their career. Her intention, therefore, is to remind the creative world that it’s OK to take a step back from your craft and enjoy other things: “you are not your productivity,” she says, “it is OK to take it slow and not do anything!”
Imbuing such a positive message into her work is far from new for Martcellia, as her usual style is bound with optimism and joy. Often, people describe her work as “a mood booster”, which is “already an achievement for me as a creator,” she says. It’s for this reason she felt so compelled by the brief. Taking inspiration from Haring’s colourful palette, his core message and also his simple yet impactful style, Martcellia has produced a panelled illustration that reminds us to slow down a little; and maybe enjoy a glass of wine while we do so. It’s a poppy and vibrant response to the brief which undeniably puts a smile on your face. Importantly too, it’s message is unequivocal. “Having a message that’s relatable to the audience through our artworks makes people feel less alone and that’s why we make art I guess,” she muses, finally. “To connect with people with the same frequency.”
The next respondent, Australian artist and designer James Vinciguerra, remarks that conveying a positive message in the current climate that wasn't trite or didactic was the initial challenge on reading the brief. So, which cause did he feel compelled to back? “I settled for the most basic message imaginable,” he jokes: just be who you want to be. Ensuring that this is geared towards personal growth, and not a career goal, James’ artwork promotes the importance of accepting yourself and others for who they are, even if you have a difference of opinions.
This intimation is expressed through James’ signature style, which is erratic and experimental, combing multiple digital brushes on one canvas. Visually, he was aware that he didn’t want to make anything that mimicked Haring’s work, especially as “I feel like my drawing style has similarities [to his] already (just today someone asked if a shirt I made was made by Keith).” His first inclination therefore, was to create a “pleasing image where the letterforms were placed in a way that looked good but were illegible which I justified as being OK because life is confusing and hard to understand.” What he’s produced is true to that initial leaning, but with legible type to hammer home the artwork’s meaning.
Speaking on the importance of imbuing your work with a clear message, particularly one that encourages positive change, James remarks that “art, design, poetry, music, film” are all mediums which can be great outlets to inspire others. “Yeah, slogans don’t change anything… words don’t mean much, especially when you are in furious agreement with one another,” he continues. “But this year we’ve seen slogans on shirts and posters being sold to raise huge amounts of money for people who need it, fantastic! Sure, you can’t conflate consumerism with activism but we are at a point where we are so lost with what to do to make the world a better place, it’s better than nothing. If we feel the need to self-initiate a poster, we can perhaps try and think about ways to appeal to people who we don’t agree with, rather than trotting out some polite or viciously polemical stuff that doesn’t do much of anything.”
Now, we come onto our third and final contributor, Gabriel Massan. Based in Berlin where he makes weird and wonderful 3D works, Gabriel’s response is inspired by his home country of Brazil. “At first I thought of bringing up questions about the right to immigration, gender roles or Black empowerment,” he explains. “But thinking about Brazil in the current scenario led me to a new path.” Inspired by the colours of Haring’s iconic work, Gabriel has chosen to take a stand against deforestation of the Amazon and the tragic loss of indigenous land and homes that also comes along with that.
It’s a topic he first learned about when he joined Brazil’s first Indigenous Women’s March. “On that occasion I witnessed several testimonies of women who brought with them afflictions and fears regarding the government’s helplessness towards the indigenous territory and the environment,” he recalls. He then goes on to explain that, since the beginning of 2020, there has been the largest number of burnings in the Amazon and, recently, the Pantanal (a vast region of tropical swampland in southwest Brazil) has lost 12 per cent of its territory. “ The number of outbreaks of fire continues to spread to ever larger reserves, resulting in an irreparable catastrophe,” Gabriel elaborates. In order to bring visibility to this topic, Gabriel produced his interpretation of passiflora. Also known as the passion flower or passion vine, it’s a botanical genus with more than 500 natural species from South America, with its largest distribution in central and northern Brazil. It appears in Gabriel’s artwork “isolated in a dry and smoky scenery that represents a devastated area,” as he describes.
As well as taking inspiration from Haring’s use of colour, Gabriel utilised a well-known method of the great artist, experimenting with overlapping techniques. This saw him using multiple brushes from the new Adobe library, creating custom letterings within the artwork as he did so. Like Haring did, Gabriel strives to use his art to question the hegemonic order, describing how, for him, “art is a testimony”. Through his work, he continues, “I can reverse the poles and redesign the map, redefining the world as I want it to be. And this ability to rediscover the freedom of imagination exists because someone once told me that I could be an artist.”
What’s clear throughout Martcellia, James and Gabriel’s outcomes is the importance of finding what you believe in and channeling that into your work. Whether it’s a silly, simple or serious message, art is the perfect vehicle for making your voice heard. And, when these thoughts are visualised they resonate, so you may just inspire the change you wish to see.
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