Keith Haring - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 13, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gladstone Gallery, New York
    McCabe Fine Art

  • Catalogue Essay

    Keith Haring’s visual language is one that treads the line between the playful and the solemn or the childish and the serious, in a manner only made possible by his highly individual style. His graphic way of painting emulates cartoons but not all of his works portray naive stories filled with jovial characters. A master of the narrative, Haring subtly inserts references to a more severe and disturbing demi-monde – one that is made palatable through a simplified aesthetic that rejects traditional notions of depth and three-dimensional space. Thus, his googly-eyed monsters and four-legged demons who take part in the most primal of activities, remain at comfortable distance, while their messages linger poignantly. In this way, Haring has created an array of powerful works that act as social commentaries on issues surrounding race, death, sexuality and politics.

    Untitled (1984) features a garish skull consuming or regurgitating a ghoul which lashes its arms out in defence, while figures in the foreground attempt to escape a strangely phallic hybrid form that keeps a watchful eye over all their movements. Dismembered bones can be seen spilling out of the canvas emphasising the ominous qualities of the scene unfolding before us. Rendered in 1984, this work was produced during Haring’s period of exploration into hellish motifs not dissimilar to that of Francisco Goya or Hieronymus Bosch. Goya’s renowned series of Black Paintings centred on haunting themes displayed his own fear of insanity as well as his depressing view of humanity; from this collection of fourteen works one of the most resoundingly powerful images that arose was that of Saturn devouring his son. Therefore, perhaps Haring’s deathly head in the top left section of Untitled harks back to this motif. Similarly, something of Bosch’s surreal visions of hell can be found in the manner in which Haring morphs animalistic characteristics with cleverly jarring motifs to form his inventive range of monsters that inhabit the works of this period. Specifically, the four-legged creature in the bottom left corner of this composition echoes Bosch’s Prince of Hell with its beaked, bird-like head and large all-seeing eye.

    Stylistically Haring’s works however, separate themselves from the more traditional academic styles of Goya and Bosch, using a visual language more akin to hieroglyphics or primitive engravings. In fact, the heavily outlined skull-like forms frequently resemble Mayan carvings and, in other works of this period, this connection is further highlighted through the inclusion of large pierced ears weighed down by hooped earrings, tribal markings and other such references. Despite Haring’s wide-reaching influences his artistic experimentations lay firmly in a modern mindset. Owing a great deal to Pop Art’s fascination with cartoons, prints and signs, Haring’s paintings very much fit into this lineage – using his style of figuration as a means of propagating his ‘brand’ (even selling his own motifs on merchandise such as t-shirts, in a makeshift shop). Furthermore, his knowledge of French artists including, most notably, Jean Dubuffet, allowed Haring to further a graphic style that would utilise childlike motifs with heavy outlines as the basis of his own distinct style.

    Conjuring up and at times merging stories from the mythical to the mundane, Haring’s art draws on the heritage of a modernist visual language embedded in popular culture. Thus, Untitled (1984) is emblematic of the artist’s ability to bring together these diverse strands into a coherent and thought-provoking narrative that continues to confuse, beguile, humour and attract viewers decades after its creation.

  • Artist Biography

    Keith Haring

    American • 1958 - 1990

    Haring's art and life typified youthful exuberance and fearlessness. While seemingly playful and transparent, Haring dealt with weighty subjects such as death, sex and war, enabling subtle and multiple interpretations. 

    Throughout his tragically brief career, Haring refined a visual language of symbols, which he called icons, the origins of which began with his trademark linear style scrawled in white chalk on the black unused advertising spaces in subway stations. Haring developed and disseminated these icons far and wide, in his vibrant and dynamic style, from public murals and paintings to t-shirts and Swatch watches. His art bridged high and low, erasing the distinctions between rarefied art, political activism and popular culture. 

    View More Works

Property from the Estate of Dr. Fredric S. Brandt, Miami



acrylic on canvas
60 x 60 cm (23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in.)
Signed, dedicated and dated 'K.HARING FOR ENRICO - JUNE 1984 - Milano, K. Haring' on the overlap.

£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £218,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London 14 October 2015 7pm