Untitled is a seminal example of Keith Haring's work, dating from 1982, one of the most sought after years of the artist's short career. The present lot dates from the artist's very first show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, the gallery that would become the artist's greatest champion and who would give him five solo exhibitions between 1982 and his untimely death in 1990.
For his first Shafrazi exhibition, Haring combined a frieze-like wall drawing, painted tondos, framed ink drawings and a series of tarpaulins, a support that he had just begun using in 1981. Untitled was given pride of place, and was installed in the center of the main wall. Haring created an ecstatic environment, in which the forms appeared to be bursting out of their frames, and the scampering figures painted along the lower edge of the wall seem to have escaped from the paintings themselves and are rushing out of the room. Jumping, falling, running, diving, exploding--Haring's work is always in motion.
The exhibition had a brilliant visual syncopation. The alternating rhythms of the black and white of the drawings played off the delirious color of the tarpaulins, with the red dashes along the bottom of the wall providing a steady beat. In his short career, Haring had already curated a number of exhibitions and his brilliance at installation would be evident throughout his career. The exhibition was a revelation and helped establish the artist as one of the decade's most distinctive voices.
One of the greatest works in the exhibition, and certainly the most dynamic is Untitled. In the painting, a limp figure is held up by another, and the very air around them appears to explode in response. Its execution has the raw feeling of a graffiti artist, or an action painter. The violence and energy with which it was painted created scattered areas of drips and splashes, which add to the expressive effect.
Untitled's image is timeless, the composition is balanced, and its subject is equally poignant and humorous, although ultimately indecipherable. Is this a scene of sacrifice? A scene of victory after a hard won battle? A presentation to the heavens? Haring gives us clues, but no answers. His best work is a "fantastic hybrid of high and low, ancient and contemporary, East and West, a paradigm for an expanded area of signs in the modern metropolis" (Ibid, p.18).