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Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
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Keith Haring (1958-1990)

Untitled

Details
Keith Haring (1958-1990)
Untitled
signed and dated 'K.Haring SEPT. 21-1983 ?' (on the reverse)
vinyl paint on vinyl tarpaulin with metal grommets
73 x 73 in. (185.4 x 185.4 cm.)
Painted in 1983.
Provenance
Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1983
Special Notice

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Lot Essay

“It was not only [Keith’s] ability to scale, but even knowing where the line goes with nothing – no preparatory sketch, no notation, no slide projection on to a wall of a smaller image. It was so direct, just drawing head-on, stark. They didn’t know how to describe it so they called it graffiti, but it wasn’t. Different images, different identities, different narratives, different symbolism applied to narrative… it was much more complex.”
—T. Shafrazi, quoted in M. Sawyer, “‘It’s the fun and joy I remember’: Keith Haring by his friends”, The Observer, 2 June 2019

In the same private collection since it was acquired from the famed Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York nearly forty years ago, Keith Haring’s Untitled offers up a dynamic and energetic display of the iconic forms that propelled the artist to worldwide fame. Along with his friend Jean-Michel Basquiat, Haring became one of the central figures of the New York art scene in the early 1980s, emerging (quite literally in Haring’s case) from the underground art scene to become one of the decade's biggest art stars. His cartoon-like figures became a recognizable part of subway graffiti until the artist expanded his repertoire and began working on a larger-scale; thus, his energetic compositions became emblematic of this exciting period.

Untitled is one of Haring’s full-sized paintings executed on his favored choice of support: a commercially available industrial tarpaulin. Constrained only by the physical dimensions of the canvas, the artist packs his composition with color and movement in an energetic display of bravado. In what amounts to a virtuoso performance, his unique forms twist and turn in a form of exotic dance. A large anthropomorphic figure emerges from a hole in the ground; like the genie emerging from his lamp, this mysterious figure expands to dominate the composition. Within its bold black silhouette, Haring completes the form with hundreds of white spots, all placed randomly yet uniformly to produce an even flow of dots. At the base of this central figure, two attendants kneel with their arms raised aloft as if paying homage to this ghostly apparition. This sense of movement is further highlighted by a series of “vibration marks,” visual devices used by comic book artists to give a sense of movement to otherwise stationary figures. These visual tropes appear throughout this particular work, infusing this packed composition with a palpable sense of dynamism.

Painted in 1983, Untitled was executed during a pivotal period for Haring. After joining Tony Shafrazi’s gallery in the spring of 1982, Haring began to seek out new methods with which he might begin to create large-scale paintings. Having developed a reputation for the subway drawings he rendered in white chalk upon the walls of New York City subway platforms, Haring searched for materials with which to create his signature iconography while still retaining the “street cred” of his earlier work. Reluctant to go the traditional route of oil on canvas, which he felt embodied an unwanted amount of affluence and prestige, Haring continued to seek out unusual materials with which to execute his ever more sophisticated pictorial creations. Walking through the city streets sometime in 1982, Haring noticed that a Con Edison construction crew had covered their equipment with a large piece of industrial tarpaulin. The large-scale machine-made quality of the tarp material intrigued Haring since it embodied the gritty, anti-art aesthetic he was looking for on a scale large enough to fit his needs. He eventually discovered a company in Brooklyn that manufactured made-to-order tarps, and toward the fall of 1982 he purchased various sizes and colors, many of which were shown at his inaugural one-man show at Tony Shafrazi’s Gallery later that year. These large-scale tarps, some measuring as much as 10-feet and 12-feet square, demonstrate the bravado with which Haring considered this seminal body of work. In Untitled, the monolithic scale of its electric imagery grabs the viewer with a jolt, while the precision and inventiveness of Haring’s line demonstrates the gravitas of a mature artist.

Despite its apparently simple composition, Haring’s paintings are in fact complex interactions between what we see and what we understand. This seemingly random series of lines and symbols is constructed with great speed and exactitude, often in one attempt and with scant regard for contemplated consideration. But despite the speed at which they are executed, Haring is a master of composition, born, in part, out of his roots as a graffiti artist and his constant fear of run-ins with New York’s notorious police department. His composition abilities were appreciated by his peers, including the Pop master, Roy Lichtenstein: “Keith composes in an amazing way. I mean, it’s as if he dashes the painting off—which he does in a way—but it takes enormous skill to make works that become whole paintings. They’re not just arbitrary writings. He really has a terrific eye! And he doesn’t go back and correct—this is in itself amazing—and his compositions are of a very high level” (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Gruen, Keith Haring. The Authorized Biography, New York, 1991, p. 124).

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