1980-1982 marked Keith Haring's evolution from guerilla subway artist to mature gallery artist. Haring resisted the transition from the East Village scene to the SoHo gallery world. While Keith knew the advantage of validating his work in the context of the SoHo art galleries, he was wary of losing himself to its established conventions. Untitled, 1981, is one of his earliest "tarp paintings" of this critical debut at the Tony Shafrazi gallery in SoHo. Haring wrote the following comments regarding this crucial period of his development as an artist:
"Tony and I decided that I would have my first one-man show in his new gallery in October of 1982. It became an incredible event. Now, during this time, I had just been drawing, and for the show I wanted to do some big paintings, which I had resisted all along. The reason was that I had an aversion to canvas. I always felt I would be impeded by canvas, because canvas seemed to have a certain value before you even touched it. I felt I wouldn't be free, the way I was working on paper-because paper was unpretentious and totally available and wasn't all that expensive. Also for me, canvas represented this whole historical thing-and it just psychologically blocked me.
One day, I observed some Con Edison men working on the street, and they were covering their equipment with these vinyl tarpaulins, which had these little metal grommets in them. So I went up and inspected them and wanted to buy some of these tarpaulins. Well, I located a place in Brooklyn called the Acme Rope and Canvas Company, which I partly chose because of the name, because, growing up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, anything that's named Acme was a total joke.. I go to this place by subway-drawing on black panels along the way, of course-and they show me all these many-colored tarpaulins-and they can make them up to
size-and I order a whole batch of them, and I tell them how to space the grommets. I then investigate which medium will bite into the surfaces, and discover it has to be a kind of silk-screening ink that's made for plastic. The ink is mixed with some lacquer thinner, and it can bite and sort of melt into plastic. So I order several gallons of it. The tarps I order are mostly yellow and bright red. Most of the tarps that I ordered the first time were yellow. In fact, all of them in the beginning were yellow. The first pieces, the smaller ones, which were six -by-six feet, I could do downstairs in my studio on Broome street.
So I begin to paint on these tarps... and I prepare for the show. First, I cover the entire gallery-from floor to ceiling- with drawings, leaving room for the tarpaulins, which are hung in strategic places. Then I add a whole series of baked enamel things, which I had constructed and then painted on. Then, in the basement, I did an entire black light installation, because I was becoming interested in fluorescent paint.
By this time, I had become really skilled at hanging a show. CBS-TV asked to come and tape me preparing for it, filming as I complete a big painting, covering the opening, and this is to be shown on the "CBS Evening News" with Dan Rather! Well, the opening was incredible. That night, there were thousands of people-everybody I knew from the club scene, the art scene, and the graffiti scene was there. It was this big mix-match of people, which had really never existed at a gallery And all these artists came! There was Roy Lichtenstein and Bob Rauschenberg and Sol Lewitt and Richard Serra and Francesco Clemente. I had people hand out stickers of my 3-Eyed Face, which had become a sort of icon-and people were sticking it all over each other. And I gave away posters and buttons-there was a real party atmosphere."
(John Gruen, Keith Haring: the Authorized Biography, New York 1991, pp. 85-86)