Keith Haring - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, June 26, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Casino Knokke, Knokke
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1987

  • Catalogue Essay

    Untitled (Knokke #3) is a rare, but quintessential example of Keith Haring’s distinctive artistic style. Painted in Knokke in 1987, when the artist completed his monumental mural at the Channel Surf Club, the present work presents an open mouthed monstrous sea god ingesting a fish, whole. An ambiguous body of mythic significance is traced by Haring’s signature line as it extends its distinctly human hand above its head. Singular and decisive brushstrokes dominate the work, a bold celebration of the artist’s unique visual language.

    By invitation of Roger Nellens in 1987 Haring travelled to Knokke in Belgium where he was commissioned to paint a mural. Nellens intended to continue the legacy of his father and brother who had also commissioned René Magritte and Paul Delvaux respectively. Whilst there, Haring found the side of a large sea container that stored surfboards for the Channel Surf Club. Painted in a single day, with two pots of black and red paint, Haring completed a scene that witnessed swimmers riding the crashing tides, advancing towards the mouth of a monstrous sea god that will surely consume them. Haring’s spirited synthesis of mythic and human figures is echoed in the present work. The body appears as a kind of mortal and fabled hybrid, an uncanny creature that veers between the mythic-not quiet-human and the fragility of the mortal. Its human and non-human features reconfigure with every examination by the viewer, introducing a sense of movement to its gesture. The monstrous creature recalls those that dwell in the margins of medieval manuscripts or that adorn the columns of the period's cathedrals, whilst also suggestive of the colossal sculpture of a dragon, Le Dragon by Nikki de Saint Phalle, which Haring stayed in whilst in Knokke. This sculpture, a garden house built in Nellens’ garden by de Saint Phalle, is a globular and vibrant structure which de Saint Phalle allowed Haring, Jean Tinguely and Nellens to graffiti from the inside.

    Blocked out in graphic type to the right of the composition, Haring’s name places his personality at the forefront of the work. Marking the work with the copyright symbol, directly below the capitalised rendering of his tag, the artist acknowledges the increasing popularity of his imagery with the proliferation of his visual language. On the appreciation of his trademark style and commenting on the reception of his Knokke mural, Haring remarks ‘I begin Mural and immediately attract a crowd. By the time I finish, to applause, there are 50-60 people watching. The sun is really hot and I wear sunblock and a hat. The audience is incredible’ (Keith Haring, quoted in Journals, New York, 1996). Whilst not site-specific like his monumental mural for the Channel Surf Club, the inscription ‘KNOKKE’ on the reverse of present work affords the canvas a singular site specifity. With Haring’s signature style having permeated myriad public spaces, the present composition displays the artist’s vibrant lexicon of motifs, transcending the limits of geography and time.

    Painted in 1987, Untitled (Knokke #3) emerged at a time that witnessed an exciting, and vivid revival of the oldest of artistic traditions, painting. Engaging with the medium Haring explores painting’s historiography. Consistent with Haring’s prolific yet tragically short artistic career, the present work dynamically shifts between two aesthetic registers, the painterly quality of its medium and the pictorial syntax of a graphic typography. His minimalist use of line condenses his forms to their most rudimentary components, conjuring child-like drawings, ancient cave paintings as well as a basic street-style aesthetic. Haring established a singular and progressive pictorial lexicon, his forms and line recall the early cave paintings of Lascaux whilst simultaneously drawing upon Japanese, Chinese, and Mayan pictograms, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Aztec or Aboriginal codes. His work ‘looks ahead, to things like Japanese graphics and the importance of cartoons and comic books as a kind of universal populist language’ (Peter Halley in conversation with Gianni Mercurio in Gianni Mercurio (ed.), Keith Haring, Musee d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, 2008, p. 81). Haring’s recurrent employment of the body as the work’s subject frames it within a historically significant linage of artistic preoccupation. Haring’s work advances toward a reconfiguration of painting as a language befitting the post-industrial landscape of eighties America.

    In the present work, mind and body engage in a kind of psychic automatism, a mode of artistic endeavour that recalls the work of Sol LeWitt and Cy Twombly. In drawing, quickly Haring’s conscious mind is unable to filter cognition. Instead his process allows his innermost thoughts to be given aesthetic form. The uncannily human Other that ingests the fish, extends its arm, holding the fish above its mouth, completing a kind of circuit that is metonymic to the circle of life. The unconscious desire for immortality breaks through in this image.

    Mirroring Haring’s epic mural at Knokke, the present work makes a bid for immortality as Haring eternalises the transition of life. Articulating his relationship with mortality which is brought to the fore in Untitled (Knokke #3), the artist states, ‘I am just a link in a chain’ (Keith Haring, quoted in Journals, New York, 1996, p. 20). Here, Haring’s mythical canvas stands as a lasting testament to the artist’s singular pictorial register. Instilled with Haring’s pioneering dynamism, executed in the summer of 1987, Untitled (Knokke #3), is an engaging and otherworldly composition by the master of visual syntax.

  • Artist Biography

    Keith Haring

    American • 1958 - 1990

    Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring moved to New York City in 1978 at the age of 20 to study at the School of Visual Arts. By the early 1980s, Haring rose to prominence for his graffiti drawings made in the New York subways and streets. Alongside his friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, who he met at the SVA, Haring became a leading figure of the East Village art scene through the 1970s and 1980s.

    Best known for his cartoon-like imagery developed through bold lines and vibrant colors, Haring refined a visual language of symbols that simplified forms to their most essential elements. Exploring the themes of birth and death, sex and war, social inequality, and love, his art bridged the high and low, erasing the distinctions between rarefied art, political activism, and popular culture. Despite his tragically brief career, Haring created a universal visual language embraced throughout the world, and his works are housed in many major collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, Ludwig Museum, Cologne, and Nakamura Keith Haring Collection in Hokuto, Japan.

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Untitled (Knokke #3)

signed and dated '87 HARING ©' right edge; further signed, titled and dated 'K. Haring JUN 23-87 ©⊕ "KNOKKE #③"' on the overlap
oil on canvas
99.8 x 99.6 cm (39 1/4 x 39 1/4 in.)
Painted on 23 June 1987.

£600,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £729,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018