KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
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KEITH HARING (1958-1990)


KEITH HARING (1958-1990)
signed and dated '© K. Haring OCT. 4 1989 ?' (on the reverse)
acrylic and collage on paper
38 ¼ x 38 ¼ in. (97.2 x 97.2 cm.)
Executed in 1989.
Galerie 1900-2000, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Brought to you by

Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Vice President, Specialist, Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Executed in 1989, the present lot is a unique drawing corresponding to Plate 4 of Apocalypse, the first of two collaborative projects between Keith Haring and American Beat poet William S. Burroughs. In total, Apocalypse is comprised of ten plates of experimental text by Burroughs paired with provocative illustrations by Haring, and realizes 1980s New York as an apocalyptic landscape – in this case, an end of the world catalyzed primarily by the AIDS epidemic. Created the same year as Keith Haring’s own AIDS diagnosis, Apocalypse is a powerful and dynamic tour de force of Burroughs’ signature “cut-up” language and Haring’s most iconic – and personal – imagery.

Keith Haring first met William S. Burroughs in 1983, but had been inspired by the Beats since he was introduced to their work in 1978 at the Nova Convention while attending the School of Visual Arts in downtown New York City. Haring was immediately taken by the conceptual leanings of the Beat generation, and in particular, the “cut-up” technique popularized by Burroughs, in which written text is spliced and rearranged to create a new text. In much the same vein, Haring broke out with his own visual style in 1980, recontextualizing familiar images and symbols to achieve pictorial communication beyond that which conventional language and image patterns could achieve. When the pair finally came together for Apocalypse in 1988 it was thus a perfect creative match. As described by their contemporary Timothy Leary, their artistic union was “like Dante and Titian getting together” (T. Leary quoted in J. Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, 1991, New York, pp. 185).

In Apocalypse, each composition is a reprise on a collaged image taken from advertising, art history, or Catholic theology, culminating in a Boschian extravaganza of chaos and suffering. In the case of the present lot, Haring incorporates a 19th century portrayal of Saint Fabiola. According to Catholic theology, Saint Fabiola was a nurse who ultimately followed Saint Jerome and renounced all worldly goods, devoting herself to asceticism and charitable work. She is also known to be a patron saint of divorce and abuse, as she is said to have been the source of scandal when she dared to divorce her abusive husband. Yet, in spite of her illustrious biography, the meaning of Saint Fabiola’s inclusion remains unclear in both the present preparatory drawing and in the finalized plate, and is even further mystified with her additional appearances in Plates 7 and 9 of the larger portfolio. In each iteration, Haring adorns Saint Fabiola with various conflicting images and symbols, effectively blurring the lines between her role as friend or foe in the midst of the enduring bedlam throughout the series.

“The household appliances revolt: washing machines snatch clothes from the guests, bellowing Hoovers suck off makeup and wigs and false teeth, electric toothbrushes leap into screaming mouths, clothes dryers turn gardens into dust bowls, garden tools whiz through lawn parties, impaling the guests, who are hacked to fertilizer by industrious Japanese hatchets. Loathsome, misshapen, bulbous plants spring from their bones, covering golf courses, swimming pools, country clubs and tasteful dwellings” (W. S. Burroughs, from Apocalypse, 1988, Plate 4).

Plate 4, specifically, witnesses a moment of mechanical uprising within the larger saga, in which vacuums, electric toothbrushes, and gardening tools team up to wreak havoc on the humans, the machines in control at last. As a preparatory drawing, the present lot fascinates in its revealing of Haring’s artistic process in creating his illustrations for Apocalypse. In viewing the drawing, one discerns the passages of color as among the earliest elements applied to the page, as the exact forms are ultimately scanned and replicated in the finalized plate. While Haring is perhaps best known for his iconic line, here we see the colored forms leading the charge, serving as the tangible footprint for the composition which allows the line to come in and effectively transform the yellow vacuum-turned-gas mask, the red gardening shear-turned-claw, and the blue washing machine-turned-evil eye. Haring’s use of the primary colors here also serves to imbue the work with the familiarity of a children’s’ book illustration. Akin perhaps to the illustrated biblical readers passed out to children at Sunday School (which Haring would have known well, given his experience of evangelicalism as an adolescent), the drawing tells a tale of human demise in the same nonchalant, matter-of-fact tone as stories of suffering in the Old Testament; it was always to end this way. Yet, in his own words, “Still, all that [religious] stuff stuck in my head and even now there are lots of religious images in my work, although they’re used in a more cynical way – to show how manipulative those beliefs and images can be” (K. Haring, quoted in J. Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, 1991, New York).

In its entirety, the Apocalypse series stands as a moment of unique significance in Haring’s oeuvre. The historic partnership with Burroughs combined with the inspirational fodder of an epidemic that not only stole the lives of so many around him, but that would ultimately also steal his own, necessitated a creative masterpiece that harrowingly expresses the pain and anguish felt by those living amidst the monumental losses of the AIDS crisis. One of few works by Haring that explicitly references the artist’s own lived experience, Apocalypse seems to be at once a private cathartic release as well as a public call to arms. At its core, Apocalypse is not just about the AIDS epidemic or the sense of inevitable doom lurking throughout New York in the 80s. Rather, it is a timeless mediation on the crazed effects of alienation, death, euphoria, and fear – as relevant today (and likely tomorrow) as it was in 1989.

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