Old gods, new colours, new contexts... In Untitled, Keith Haring has taken an image from Eastern iconography and mythology and has reinvigorated it, lending it a distinctly urban flair. The bright colours that swirl and coalesce in this mask-like image recall the fact that Haring made his name initially as a graffiti artist. The vortex of bold paints does not appear to relate directly to the lines of the image itself, and yet lends it a brash and contemporary energy, bursting with colour. This picture has the imagery of ancient religion and mysticism, and yet has been allied with the groove and verve of the modern metropolitan environment. Haring believed in art for all, in opening up the overly elitist world of the 'cognoscenti' to a wider public. His graffiti had been more than a rebellion it had been a means of bringing art to everyone. In Untitled, he continues this challenge by presenting an arcane religious image in a distinctly modern means, hinting at the continued existence of old belief systems in new guises in the urban environment. His pictures show a new contemporary punk pantheon.
One of Haring's main concerns in his pictures was line. Indeed, this was close to an obsession for him, and was one of the reasons that he was so fascinated by other draughtsmen such as Matisse and Dubuffet. Many of his earliest works, before he gained any recognition, had been frenetic, abstract, hallucinogen-fuelled scrawls. In New York, these had given way to the strange and enigmatic figures that are so idiosyncratic in his work. The clean but labyrinthine lines that make up the complex image in Untitled share the boldness, crispness and concision of the graffiti figures of his early career, yet have here been turned to other means, to the depiction of a great, superhuman deity, a monumental face staring from the wall. For Haring, the density of line that fills his greatest works and which is so palpable in Untitled creates a sense of connectivity that itself relates to his own interest in the interconnectedness of humans. Thus the line and the theme of this work are united, medium and message are in complete concordance, pointing to an overarching universality. 'See, when I paint, it is an experience that, at its best, is transcending reality,' Haring said, explaining that this dimension was reflected also in his state of mind while working. 'When it is working, you completely go into another place, you're tapping into things that are totally universal, of the total consciousness, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That's what it's all about' (Haring, quoted in D. Sheff, 'Keith Haring: An Intimate Conversation,' Rolling Stone, August 1989, reproduced at www.haring.com).