A Light-hearted Tone in 1980s Art

Even though it may appear frivolous on first impressions, there is a real reason why people are drawn to the things of the 1980s — the seemingly surface-deep glimmer or two-dimensional aesthetics are in fact a bold outcry away from the weight of the necessity of deep meaning in art. In the midst of a hotbed, rapidly evolving political, consumerist and social worldwide environment, the most active artists of the 1980s were delivering a movement in line with what artists do best— rebellious backlash against the forces serving to contain them. With the new availability of the personal computer in the 70s, the speed of communication and social exchange was increasing dramatically, and the societal expectations fostered a demand on artists leading perhaps to the proliferation of a distinctly light-hearted tone.

 

It further served to accelerate the interest in light artwork that the general public responded well to images for the sake of beauty, fashion, humor or pleasure, perhaps seen as a welcome respite from the heaviness of turbulent times wrought with friction and complicated emotions — what better an oasis than an art world bursting with defiant, upbeat imagery.

 

Patrick Nagel, Commemorative No. I

Patrick Nagel’s work has that classic look with his highly flattened, simplified figures, lending a stylized and high-contrast expression that immediately catches the eye. His prints helped define the world of fashion illustration in the decade, with the focus on two-dimensional design that highlights cool beauty as the frontrunning message. With a distinctive style descended from Art Deco, he is well known for his illustrations for Playboy magazine and the pop group Duran Duran.

 

Keith Haring, Untitled (1984)

Keith Haring is one of the trailblazing visionaries of 1980s stylized expression, his simplified marks perfecting the presence of cartoon line-rendering in the realm of high art. Despite often addressing serious subject matter with passionate political and social activism, his images are humorous and disruptively light-hearted, looking at the human condition through an inspired lens that is full of hope and a reflection of the power of joy to instigate change.

 

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #119

Cindy Sherman rightfully has a cult following, her offbeat self-portrait photography poking fun at the absurdities of a heavily curated self-image like those seen in the Hollywood film industry both on and off camera — while at the same time acknowledging the inherent human beauty that exists in that pursuit. Even though Sherman’s artistic investigations are deep and complex, she masterfully and effortlessly employs humor and superficiality to make wry observations. Her images can’t help but inspire smiles.

 

Erté, Firebird

Erté is an unmistakable icon over a number of decades, his Art Deco- inspired decorative figures gracing the works of fashion designers and alcohol advertising, in addition to incomparable jewelry design and wearable art, and even work designing sets and costumes for the film industry. The 1980s were the years right before his death at age 97, a time when he was undoubtedly in full swing. His power is, like the peacock, of the magnificent display of visual beauty in its infinite tiers of unfolding. His pieces give permission to relish in the mere pleasure of decoration, and their brilliant simplicity of form highlights what is characteristically beautiful about humans at a very youthful and unencumbered level.

 

With times again being full of weighty, important and meaningful discourse, it is no wonder the aesthetics of the 1980s are holding their perpetual renaissance afresh.