Lot 37
  • 37

Keith Haring

2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
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  • Keith Haring
  • Self-Portrait for Tony
  • signed, titled and dated Feb 2 85 on the overlap
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 48 by 48 in. 121.9 by 121.9 cm.


Tony Shafrazi, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
Private Collection
Skarstedt Gallery, New York 
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2008


Nice, Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain, Le Portrait dans l'Art Contemporain, July - September 1992
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Keith Haring, May - June 2008, p. 43, illustrated in color and illustrated in color on the cover (detail)
Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Keith Haring, the Political Line, April - August 2013, p. 277, no. 152, illustrated in color (as Untitled (Self-Portrait))
San Francisco, de Young Museum, Keith Haring: The Political Line, November 2014 - February 2015, p. 243, no. 205, illustrated in color (as Untitled (Self-Portrait))


John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, New York, 1991, p. 162, illustrated in color (as Self-Portrait, in incorrect orientation and with incorrect dimensions)
Germano Celant, Ed., Keith Haring, Munich, 1992, p. 9, fig. 1, illustrated (as Untitled (Self-Portrait))


This painting is in excellent condition. Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at +1 (212) 606-7254 for the report prepared by Terrence Mahon. The canvas is not framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Crafting an iconic visual idiom that became synonymous with his cultural milieu, Keith Haring gifted an entirely new language of contemporary symbolism to the history of painting. Articulated through unabashed linear confidence, Haring’s compelling yet tragically limited oeuvre wove an interconnected tapestry that held a stark mirror to the present state of humanity. Wide reaching themes of money, religion, morality, race, sexuality, prejudice and oppression often took center stage within Haring’s allegorical dramas of modernity. Yet, despite the artist’s deeply personal connection to these profound issues, it was only on a few rare occasions that he explicitly turned to himself as a subject. Painted in the pivotal year of 1985, the present work is undoubtedly the most daringly honest and intimate self-portrait that Haring created. As a personal gift for friend and gallerist Tony Shafrazi, in the specifically titled Self-Portrait for Tony we see Haring stepping out of his contemporary myth-making to craft a sensitive likeness of himself. Across a vibrantly impactful stark white canvas, we witness a rare sense of naturalistic mimesis that still maintains the economy of line characteristic of the artist’s idiosyncratic visual lexicon. As such, Self-Portrait for Tony offers a unique invitation to a rare moment of self-reflection which is intrinsically bound to an enshrinement of the vitality of life.

The year of 1985 brought significant critical recognition for Haring as he progressed from the underground subway drawings that catalyzed his early celebrity in the New York art scene, to cement his commercial appeal in two concurrent solo exhibitions. Whilst a set of sculptures debuted at Leo Castelli Gallery on Greene Street in New York, an early series of paintings on canvas were shown concurrently at the gallery of Tony Shafrazi – the valued confidant and key figure behind Haring’s success to whom the present work is dedicated. Self-Portrait for Tony is the ultimate celebration of Haring’s foray into the practice of painting on canvas which, when launched at Shafrazi’s show, ushered his urban visions into the realm of fine art.  Moving away from the frieze-like tableaux of his large murals, Haring crops the image of his own visage extraordinarily close to the frame, channeling the concentrated psychological impact of Andy Warhol's own iconic self-representations. By implying tone and texture through the uniform application of red spots of paint applied in a Ben-Day style, Haring pays further homage to his pioneering Pop Art predecessor Roy Lichtenstein who equally respected the younger artist: “it takes enormous control, ability, talent, and skill to make works that become whole paintings […] He really has a terrific eye! And he doesn’t go back and correct—this is in itself amazing.” (Roy Lichtenstein cited in John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, New York, 1992, p. 124) Using a simple palette of black and red against a pristine white ground, Self-Portrait for Tony expresses the apotheosis of Haring’s confident, unedited line as he eschews pre-meditated schema to forge an instantly conclusive connection with the canvas.

Unlike Lichtenstein, Haring’s graphic immediacy does not reference mass-media, but is rooted in the instantaneous symbolic codes of 1980s downtown New York, the graffiti of its streets, and the East Village art scene that the artist trailblazed alongside contemporaries Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. Self-Portrait for Tony however shows a unique downplay of several of Haring’s aesthetic characteristics: pictorial symmetry; the pulsating intimation of kinetic movement; and the distillation of figurative components to their most basic representational form, devoid of ornamentation. Whilst through his cropped composition Haring presents himself with the immortality of a classical bust, he simultaneously affords a level of directly referential anatomical detail rarely seen in his work. From the vein on his head and the mole above his lip, to the curled chest hair, Haring has adapted his highly reductive style, to encompass unique naturalistic features that give an accurate sense of his appearance. Whilst maintaining his iconic visual impact, Haring created an intimate portrait that is emblematic of his close partnership with the legendary New York dealer who saw him “as the perfect boy-child of the electronic age” and an artist that opened up “the way for a new utopic era of fraternal feeling and self-realization.” (Tony Shafrazi cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Shafrazi Gallery, Keith Haring, 1990, n.p)

Having long viewed himself as “a child of the atomic age,” an apocalyptic anxiety regarding modernity and the fate of mankind permeated much of Haring’s oeuvre. (the artist cited in David Galloway, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," in Exh. Cat., Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (and travelling), Keith Haring: Heaven and Hell, 2002, p. 56) Expressed in references to nuclear weaponry and environmental decay, such as in one of his final masterpieces The Last Rainforest from 1989, the precariousness of life weighed heavy on his mind. But at the center of a generation and a community devastated by the tragic onset of the AIDS crisis, from the early 1980s Haring’s sense of universal fatalism abruptly morphed into an extremely personal awareness of mortality: “By this time—1985—things have seriously changed in New York, and in my life, because the horror of AIDS had come to light. It totally changed people’s lives.” (the artist cited in John Gruen, Keith Haring: The Authorized Biography, New York, 1991, pp. 131-132) Like Andy Warhol’s iconic Fright Wig self-portraits created the following year, Haring’s turn to self-portraiture expresses an engagement with his own mortality and a rare effort to secure his identity within the eternal history of this genre.  Haring’s pressing regard for the brevity of life would be most tragically compounded following his diagnosis with AIDS in 1987.  Yet in a diary entry shortly after, he recalled the courageous sense of inevitability with which he had long viewed the temporal nature of his time on earth: “I always knew, since I was young, that I would die young… I live every day as if it were the last.” (the artist cited in David Galloway, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell," Ibid., p. 56) As a continuation of his altruistic spirit, the sustained and passionate activism expressed though Haring’s art – from his anti-apartheid “Free South Africa” poster to the epochal “Act Up” AIDS campaign – remains as part of his benevolent legacy to the world. So gleefully attuned to the intrinsic status of life as a previous gift and through the enduring strength of Haring's line, we find the dreams of a prejudice free world built on the bonds of friendship.