On first learning of the mass murders at Robb Elementary School, a jumble of images crowded the mind – bullets flying, children running. Little came into focus. No single picture surfaced.

Then the New Yorker cover hit the newsstands with clear and simple picture parts that got the story across at a glance. What you saw were cartoon-like outlines of children’s bodies floating helplessly in the air like so much debris from an explosion.

Given the punch of the magazine cover, which is credited to illustrator Eric Drooker, it’ll be hard to look at a Keith Haring painting again without thinking of the Uvalde horror.

The magazine cover looks Haring-made.

Figuring it out

Perhaps the correlation is accidental. Certainly, Drooker’s comic Book-like figures lend necessary clarity to an otherwise tumultuous scene. But at the same time, they smack of Haring’s comic book-like figures seen in public murals and in museums throughout the world.

Before art connoisseurs took Haring seriously, he was a street artist who painted walls in multiple countries to address social issues like apartheid in South Africa and AIDs, the disease that killed him at age 31.

Seeing Drooker’s cover art echoes classic Haring with its flat, doodling simplicity, I find it surprising that newspaper coverage about the New Yorker cover didn’t pick up on the resemblance.

It’s hard to miss.

Though an ex-pat New Yorker, I can easily recall Haring’s public mural “Crack is Wack” painted on the concrete wall of a Harlem handball court. It’s so stark that you can see it all the way from FDR Drive.

Even if the New Yorker cover doesn’t conjure up the Harlem mural, it’s unfathomable how Haring’s signature style of figuration has escaped attention.

Rather than point out how Drooker appears to channel Haring, The Washington Post paid most of its attention to the challenge of the New Yorker art editor, Francois Mouly, to find a fitting illustration for the Uvalde story.

Mouly heaped praise on the illustration also without a nod to Haring: “The rawness of the execution makes for a visceral image.

The rough outlines catch something of the pain and rage we all feel.”

The Post also had an interesting take on Drooker’s illustration, noting that they had the look of crime-scene chalk outlines of bodies. Maybe that’s what Drooker was thinking of rather than Haring’s work.

I gladly join all who praise Drooker’s cover art. I just wish someone would have mentioned what appears to be an obvious debt to Haring’s figurations and the sway he holds over contemporary artmaking.

Lasting influence

In fact, a current exhibit, titled “The Keith Haring Show” is all about that influence. Business Mirror, a daily newspaper in the Philippines, reports a display of young Filipino artists “who, like the show’s namesake, has made the successful jump from street art to the mainstream circuit” – namely the Space Encounter Gallery.

Each of the participating artists acknowledges Haring’s imprint by using his figures but in their own individual styles. If Drooker’s cover art owes any debt to Haring, I just wish he’d have mentioned it.