Keith Haring - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, January 17, 2024 | Phillips

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  • "I am intrigued with the shapes people choose as their symbols to create a language. There is within all forms a basic structure, an indication of the entire object with a minimum of lines that becomes a symbol. This is common to all languages, all people, all times.”
    —Keith Haring 
    Fascination with Egyptian iconography and the power of visual symbols drove Keith Haring to create his transcendent Totem (Wood). Bathed in vibrant shades of red, blue, yellow and green, the carved design of Totem (Wood) showcases the power of colour and symbols to transcend time and place. It presents Haring’s quintessential bold, graphic forms, following his interest in semiotics and the visual languages of Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec and Aboriginal societies. Inspired by these cultures, as well as considering the practical needs of his own graffiti practice, Haring developed a unique visual lexicon of simple motifs that can be drawn quickly and also convey powerful ideas. This innovative approach underscores the potent ability of symbols to bridge cultural and temporal divides, creating a visual dialogue that resonates across centuries and cultures.


    Keith Haring and Jörg Schellmann looking at a prototype for Totem, at Hans Meyer Gallery, Dusseldorf, 1987. Image: © Schellmann Art, Artwork: © The Keith Haring Foundation

    The title’s namesake, “Totem”, defines an object or emblem that represents a group of people or ancestral lineage. The etymology is grounded in the word “doodem” from the language of the North American Ojibwe culture, who believe in tutelary spirits and deities. Directly translated, “doodem” means “to do with one’s heart” and is connected to a clan or ancestry.  For Haring, he established his own clan within the nightlife of 1980s New York, particularly at a SoHo club named the Paradise Garage. This club was an integral part of Haring’s world from the early 1980s up until its closure in 1987. Recorded in his journal, he wrote: “I don’t know if you know how important the Paradise Garage is, at least for me and the tribe of people who have shared many a collective spiritual experience there.” This profound sentiment finds its expression in Totem (Wood), where three figures joyfully dance, their shapes echoing rhythmic sounds, bathed in vibrant colours. The artwork becomes a poignant manifestation of pure human emotion, capturing the essence of the collective, spiritual experiences Haring shared at the Paradise Garage.


    Keith Haring at the Paradise Garage, date and photographer unknown. 

     “My drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life. That’s a much more so-called primitive idea, which is the reason that my drawings look like they could be Aztec or Egyptian or Aboriginal… and why they have so much in common with them.”
    —Keith Haring 

    Inner Coffin of the Chantress of Amun-Re Henettawy, 1000–945 B.C.,
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1925

    The sarcophagus form seen in Totem (Wood) displays further evidence of the influence of ancient Egyptian culture on Haring’s work. A decorated stone coffin used to house the dead above-ground, the sarcophagus not only encapsulates Haring’s interest in the ancient civilisation but additionally his enduring reflections on life and death. A recognition is made of man’s mortality, whilst additionally hinting at an embalmed, immortal afterlife. 


    Haring’s relationship with death was particularly prevalent at the time of Totem’s creation, as he was diagnosed with AIDS that same year. Furthermore, in the year preceding, Haring had experienced the loss of multiple significant people in his life, including fellow artist and friend Andy Warhol, close friend Bobby Breslau, ex-lover Juan Dubose and best friend Yves Arman. Coming face-to-face with the personal effects of mortality, the subject matter infused itself into Haring’s work. Through both form and ornamentation, Totem (Wood) signifies a reflection of Haring’s own spiritual and personal relationships, alongside his perspective on mortality. 



    • Provenance

      Personal copy of the publisher and part of the Archive of Edition Schellmann since time of publication

    • Literature

      Jörg Schellmann, ed., Forty Are Better Than One, Munich/New York, 2009, pp. 144-145

    • 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

Works from the Archive of Edition Schellmann to benefit the Ars Publicata Project


Totem (Wood)

Unique carved plywood wall relief painted with enamel in colours.
183.8 x 55.8 x 4.9 cm (72 3/8 x 21 7/8 x 1 7/8 in.)
Signed, dated and annotated 'HC' in black felt-tip pen on the accompanying metal plaque, one of three unique colour and image trial proofs, this example with the image laterally reversed (the edition was 35 and 5 artist's proofs), published by Edition Schellmann, Munich and New York.

Full Cataloguing

£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £241,300

Contact Specialist

Because of technical difficulties our sale is delayed. We should resume soon. Sorry for the inconvenience.
+44 20 7318 4024

Rebecca Tooby-Desmond
Specialist, Head of Sale, Editions

Robert Kennan
Head of Editions, Europe

Anne Schneider-Wilson
Senior International Specialist, Editions

Louisa Earl
Associate Specialist, Editions

Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 17 - 18 January 2024