Keith Haring, ‘Jerk Off (Juan Dubose)’, 1981, Sotheby's

From the Catalogue
Keith Haring’s Jerk Off (Juan Dubose) is a rare, intimate portrait offering a glimpse into the artist’s personal life. Juan Dubose, the subject of the present work, was Haring’s long-time boyfriend and lover, who ultimately died of AIDS in 1988. Haring and Dubose had a passionate on-and-off relationship for five years that was predominantly driven by physical attraction. In Haring’s own words, “It’s probably one of my major faults that I pursue physical love with such obsession. It was always the first and foremost aspect that I took care of. I always felt that intellectual stimulation and companionship could be supplied by other people…For me, the physical part was so overpowering that I just let it lead me around in this really obsessive way.” (John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, New York 1991, p. 139)

The desire that Haring felt for Dubose is evident in the present work, which is one of the most daringly honest and intimate portraits in Haring’s oeuvre. Haring created this portrait in 1981 at the beginning of his love affair with Dubose – a time of passion, excitement and discovery for the couple – well before the deterioration of their relationship, Haring’s infidelity and the devastating onset of the AIDS virus.

Signed and dated K. Haring OCT 14-81 on the reverse, this early work on paper is rendered in Haring's iconic sumi ink squiggles and framed with the artist's signature border, seen in numerous other unique works on paper from the same period. Across a stark white sheet, we witness a rare sense of naturalistic mimesis that still maintains the economy of line characteristic of the artist’s idiosyncratic visual lexicon. As such, Jerk Off (Juan Dubose) *offers a unique invitation to a moment of self-reflection, which is intrinsically bound to an enshrinement of the vitality of life. Synergizing the tabulated code of graffiti, Haring positioned himself as the artist-provocateur, responsible for speaking out against inequity, warning against oppression, and connecting with a public audience on issues such as AIDS, racism, mass-media, ecological preservation and nuclear technology. Having grown up in the 1960s as part of a generation exposed to counterculture, the Vietnam War and race riots, Haring cultivated a self-proclaimed social consciousness that inevitably seeped into the fabric of his art. —Courtesy of Sotheby's*

Signature: signed and dated OCT. 14-81 on the reverse

Jock Truman and Eric Green, Miami
Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach
Christie's, New York, 22 July 2015, Lot 71 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

About Keith Haring

Bridging the gap between the art world and the street, Keith Haring rose to prominence in the early 1980s with his graffiti drawings made in the subways and on the sidewalks of New York City. Combining the appeal of cartoons with the raw energy of Art Brut artists like Jean DuBuffet, Haring developed a distinct pop-graffiti aesthetic centered on fluid, bold outlines against a dense, rhythmic overspread of imagery like that of babies, barking dogs, flying saucers, hearts, and Mickey Mouse. In his subway drawings and murals, Haring explored themes of exploitation, subjugation, drug abuse, and rising fears of nuclear holocaust, which became increasingly apocalyptic after his AIDS diagnosis. Alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Jenny Holzer, Haring is regarded as a leading figure in New York East Village Art scene in the 1970s and '80s.

American, 1958-1990, Reading, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York