Keith Haring, ‘Untitled ’, Sotheby's

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

Please note this work was included in the following exhibition: New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Keith Haring, December 1983 - January 1984.

From the Catalogue
"The tarps were deceptively simple and graphic, and their imagery and palette predominated in Haring’s art over the next eight years in ambitious paintings, murals, and commercial products. As for color, the tarps reintroduced the commercial colors of sixties Pop and traffic signs. Typical were bold primaries (reds, yellows)...Haring painted thick, heavy lines with a velocity that flung a trail of drips over the surface."
Elisabeth Sussman in Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Keith Haring, 1997, p. 18

An electrifying composition of yellow, red, and black, Keith Haring’s Untitled from 1983 reveals the artist's remarkable application of Pop imagery and tabulated symbolic language as a mode of capturing the booming social culture of the downtown New York scene in the early eighties. Saturated in Haring's most iconic symbols, including the television, the barking dog and red Xs, Untitled bears witness to Haring’s belief in the power of art to not only reflect culture but also transform it. Having long considered himself a part of a radical new era in America, Haring harnessed art as a vehicle through which he could speak of and for his fellow generation. In Untitled, Haring relishes the electric culture of nightclubs, free love, and television while also hinting at or warning against the underlying menace of explosive culture and technologies—an underbelly that consisted of sex, drugs, and nuclear power. The brazen painterly abandon of the present work indeed elicits a sense of climatic convergence, as if we are transported to the dark basement of the East Village Mudd Club, where the kinetic energy of bodies accelerates in tandem with the pulsating beat of the percussion.

This vibrant work is notable for its exceptionally sumptuous yellow drips cascading and defining the red linear outlines. While Haring here deploys similar forms as in his famous subway chalk drawings, the nuanced balance between the expressiveness of his drips juxtaposed against the hard-edge linearity of his shapes exemplifies Haring’s mastery over the painterly medium, bridging his kitschy Pop iconography with the critical gravitas of Abstract Expressionism. At the epicenter of the present work, a centipede-like creature dominates a man on his knees, arms outstretched. Boasting a UFO as its head and a television in place of its hand, this monstrous creature upon further reflection is an anthropomorphized version of mass media. The large X on its body is Haring’s way of “tagging” this creature as a threat. Below the central altercation, Haring’s trademark barking dog emerges from the bottom left corner as another symbol of warning or imminent danger. Lines radiate from the dog’s mouth and multiply across the expanse of the picture plane in an effort to reinforce the movement, dancing, and raw vigor of the scene. These various symbols embedded in the present work portray an image of mass media physically taking dominion over humanity, leading towards a cultural explosion fueled by the thunderous growth of 1980s computer and television culture. Though Untitled is seeped in Haring’s thoughtful concern and reflection upon the radical socio-political and technological consciousness of his generation, it is nevertheless a fundamentally celebratory image that echoes his own proclamation: “I don’t think art is propaganda; it should be something that liberates the soul, provokes the imagination and encourages people to go further. It celebrates humanity” (the artist in Keith Haring Journals, New York 2010, p. xiii).

Untitled epitomizes Haring’s brilliant ability to convey movement through forms distilled to their most basic, essential components. Here, Haring’s confident hand draws bold, self-assured strokes, eschewing a premeditated schematic plan for spontaneous genius. Never erasing or reworking, Haring’s gestural ingenuity flows directly through his brush onto the tarpaulin. Just as we can visualize Pollock vigorously taking paint to canvas, revealing his heroic genius with every gestural flair, Untitled analogously conjures Haring’s performance of painting—the ineluctable motion of the image parallels Haring’s own instinctive, primal dance with brush and canvas. Describing Haring’s painterly process as an outgrowth of his unstoppable passion for dancing, Robert Farris Thompson eloquently comments: “Bent over, barefoot and bare chested, [Haring] let his patterns take him where they would. He worked in a tight combination of order… and ecstasy, letting interlocking abstract patterns push, pull and jostle one another like excited dancers on a ballroom floor” (Robert Farris Thompson, “Notes in the Art and Life of Keith Haring,” in Exh. Cat., Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Keith Haring: The Political Line, 2014, p. 47).
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed and dated Nov. 18 1983 on the reverse

New York, Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Keith Haring, December 1983 - January 1984

Germano Celant, Ed., Keith Haring, Munich 1992, cat. no. 41, illustrated in color

Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984

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