“It was the idea of making the movements I was doing into a kind of choreography – a kind of dance. I was thinking that the very act of painting placed you in an exhilarated state- it was a sacred moment.” KEITH HARING
One of the most celebrated artists working in New York during the 1980s, Keith Haring tapped into the zeitgeist of this vibrant decade: a period in which music and art flourished within a culture of conspicuous consumption, yet which was also overshadowed by the horrors of AIDS and drug abuse. The present work possesses a graphic symmetry and kinetic gestural motion exemplary of Haring’s most beloved compositions, employing Haring’s instantly recognizable, culturally pervasive pictorial language of bold contoured lines and boisterously mobile stick figures.
Created in the final years of Haring’s short life, Untitled from 1988 is a seminal example of the artist’s celebration of music and movement despite the challenges of the decade. Across the monumental tarp, Haring depicts a version of the “spider move,” one of the many trendy dance moves of the 1980s in which two dancers intertwine their bodies, fusing into one. Executed in a pared-down palette within a perfect square, the iconicity of Untitled reinforces the energy within the scene. The bold primary colors that border the grid-like formation created by the figures’ extremities are at once lyrical and balanced. For Haring, the dance move becomes a broader symbol of life and coexistence. As Robert Farris Thompson describes, "spider-moves define beauty in relation to design and shared space. When b-boys [street dancers] combine in the spider-move pattern, they are not merely dancing. They are living a principle: work with your brother, share space in relation to time. Haring expands on that. It turns into an emblem." (Robert Farris Thompson, Haring and the Dance, Keith Haring, New York, 1997, p. 218).
Arriving in the city a decade earlier, Haring was immediately drawn to the urban music and graffiti scene of 1978, working alongside other artists who were also to become legends of their time, particularly Jean-Michel Basquiat. Haring first gained renown by leaving his often ephemeral yet powerful mark on the walls and advertising boards of the city’s labyrinthine subway system. The artist recalled the impact that Basquiat’s early graffiti – completed under the moniker of ‘SAMO’ – had on his own work: “There was this art out on the streets. Before I knew who he was, I became obsessed with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work… The stuff I saw on the walls was more poetry than graffiti… On the surface they seemed really simple, but the minute I saw them I knew they were more than that. From the beginning he was my favorite artist.” (the artist in conversation with David Sheff in "Keith Haring, An Intimate Conversation," Rolling Stone, August 1989, n.p.)
Music and the urban culture surrounding it proved to be a major source of inspiration for the artist early on: “All kinds of new things were starting. In music, it was the punk and New Wave scenes… And there was the club scene – the Mudd Club and Club 57, at St. Mark’s Place, in the basement of a Polish church, which became our hangout, a clubhouse, where we could do whatever we wanted.” (the artist in conversation with David Sheff in "Keith Haring, An Intimate Conversation," Rolling Stone, August 1989, n.p.).
The extraordinary sensation of rhythm that pervades the present work and other large scale tarps can surely be connected to the artist’s deep understanding and love of this alternative and highly original music scene at the time. Untitled demonstrates the ways in which Haring’s work progressed from the first half of the 1980s, indicating a new aesthetic maturity and creative profundity that signify the work of an artist at the apex of his powers.
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