‘My art is all that I have and art is more important than life’
- K. Haring
Effervescing with a dynamic and electric energy, Keith Haring’s large-scale painting Untitled plunges the viewer into a vibrant world of colour, chaos and irresistible charm. The composition is rendered in eye-catching hues of yellow and red that are interspersed with Haring’s signature lexicon of bold, black cyphers and symbols. There is something enticingly visceral about this work: the raw immediacy of the primary palette combined with the simple articulation of shape and form exude an explosive vitality. Executed in 1982, Haring’s highly-charged composition seems to encapsulate the combustible energy of 1980s New York City, which was thriving with the excitement of sexual liberation, gay culture and a plethora of artists and intellectuals. Leaving his hometown in Pennsylvania behind in pursuit of a greater sense of meaning and vivacity, Haring moved to New York in 1978. He enrolled in the School of Visual Arts where he quickly became immersed in the city’s downtown artistic renaissance, surrounding himself with and finding inspiration from alternative art communities and graffiti artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Futura 2000. His monumental works from this period are infused with the syncopated hip-hop rhythms and underground graffiti culture of the street scene at the time. A brilliant emblem teeming with exuberance and demonstrating the mastery of Haring’s unrivalled economy of line, Untitled stands as a lasting monument to the artist’s talent and quick-witted intellect.
The central motif of Haring’s Untitled – a large delineation of the atom symbol – evokes themes of regeneration and rebirth: expressive stripes, lines and contours fly slapdash across the canvas as if in emulation of the magnitude of the cosmos or the big bang theory itself. Epitomising the youthfulness and spirit of both the artist and his contemporary moment, the painting brims with a sense of creation, existence and exploration, all fixed within a pulsating surface. In his complex network of codes, motifs and signifiers, Haring sought a global language: ‘a more holistic and basic idea of wanting to incorporate [art] into every part of life, less as an egotistical exercise and more natural somehow. I don’t know how to exactly explain it. Taking it off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people, I guess’ (K. Haring, quoted in D. Drenger, ‘Art and Life: An Interview with Keith Haring,’ in Columbia Art Review, Spring 1988, p. 53). His legacy ultimately brought this desire to fruition. As Barry Blinderman writes, ‘Adolescents in Japan draw Haringese on subway station walls. Haring imagery turns up in clothing shops in Australia, on “help the homeless” signs posted at Orly airport, in greeting card stores in San Francisco, on chopstick wrappers at a Manhattan restaurant’ (B. Blinderman, ‘And We All Shine On’, in G. Celant (ed.), Keith Haring, Munich 1992, pp. 27-28). With its blazing primary hues and rhythmic vitality, the present work is a powerful symbol of an artist who visualised a new utopia amidst the grit and grime of the city streets.