Keith Haring - New Now London Thursday, December 8, 2022 | Phillips

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  • In its fluid, calligraphic sense of line and simplified approach to form, this large-scale untitled work on paper by Keith Haring highlights the close stylistic relationship between eastern visual cultures and the burgeoning street art movement in 1980s America. Such connections were made explicitly by the artist himself, who had been immediately struck by the graffiti he found slowly spreading across New York’s streets and subways after his arrival there in 1978. As well as drawing enthusiastic parallels to his own, graphic style, Haring also saw the dialogues that this vibrant mode of expression was forging with other visual traditions:

    “Often I’d take the trains to the museums and galleries, and I was starting to see not only the big graffiti on the outside of the subway trains, but incredible calligraphy on the inside of the cars. The calligraphic stuff reminded me of what I learned about Chinese and Japanese calligraphy. There was also this stream-of-consciousness thing – this mind-to-hand flow that I saw in Dubuffet, Mark Tobey, and Alechinsky.”
       —Keith Haring

    Japan held a particular fascination for Haring, especially after his first visit to Tokyo in 1983 on the occasion of the opening of his inaugural exhibition in the country. Inspired and excited by the vibrant metropolis, he immediately started working on a large-scale mural adjacent to the gallery alongside the young graffiti writer Angel Ortiz who had joined Haring on the trip. While Japan’s unique distillation of tradition and techno-modernity certainly appealed to Haring, the country also responded enthusiastically to his accessible and inclusive approach to art-making, and it was not long before Haring opened a second site for his New York Pop Shop in Tokyo. Although the venture would ultimately be short-lived for economic reasons, it highlighted both Haring’s deep affinity with the city, and its reciprocal ‘love of American pop culture, and their love of him and his artwork.’i Indeed, Japan remains the only country to house a permanent public collection of Haring’s work in the Nakamura Keith Haring Collection located in a forest to the south of the Yatsugadake Mountains.


    Such a dialogue seems perfectly distilled in the present work, Haring’s iconic ‘radiant baby’ motif depicted alongside the animated male figure, whose simply rendered form bears a strong stylistic resemblance to traditional black ink drawings known as sumi-e works. Like contemporary graffiti, sumi-e compositions privileged simplicity and spontaneity, capturing the essence of their subject with a similar sense of immediacy and vitality.  



    Matsumura Goshun, Seven Haiku Poets, c. 1785, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, PA, USA / Purchased with funds contributed by Andrea M. Baldeck, M.D. and William M. Hollis, Jr., 1997 / Bridgeman Images



    i Julia Gruen, ‘Breaking Out: A conversation between Julia Gruen and Glenn O’Brien, Moderated by Dieter Buchhart’, in Dieter Buchhart, ed., Keith Haring: The Political Line, (exh. cat.), San Francisco, 2014, p. 61.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Japan (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, London, 14 October 2011, lot 235
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • 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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signed and dated 'K. Haring 86' lower right
sumi ink and oxidised metal on paper mounted on panel
68.9 x 135.3 cm (27 1/8 x 53 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1986.

Full Cataloguing

£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £75,600

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Gibbs
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now
+44 20 7901 7993
[email protected]


New Now

London Auction 8 December 2022