Untitled presents a singular scene, typical of Haring’s entrancing and enigmatic style: set against a radiant blue sky, a central pyramid, silver and shimmering, recalls the revered monuments of Ancient Egypt. From out of its base sprout two legs, rendered in fluorescent orange, engaged in a rhythmic dance atop an undulating, polka-dotted, crimson sea. An omnipotent pair of hands reaches down from the heavens above them. Composed at the intoxicating height of New York’s underground club scene, the painting is infused with the beats and rhythms of 1980s hip-hop and dance culture. The dynamic feet, waving hands and radiating black lines, indicative of sound and movement, evoke the electronic robotic motion of the breakdancing B-Boys, as though caught in the freeze-framing flashes of nightclub strobe-lighting. The pyramid itself makes reference to a new wave of dance that began to proliferate during this period: the electric boogie. Alongside other explicitly Egyptian imagery, the pyramid increasingly appeared in Haring’s oeuvre in allusion to a move in electric boogie known as Team Tut, after Tutankhamun. Dancers of the Tut would pile-up on top of or behind one another in a pyramidal shape making sharp angled signs with their hands known as “throwing hieroglyphs” (Hernando Molina cited in: Exh. Cat., San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Keith Haring: The Political Line, 2014, p. 54). Exhibited in 1985 at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, Untitled encapsulates the exuberant and infectious vigour of the 1980s dance revolution.
Haring demonstrated a great propensity for art from a young age. He first learnt to draw cartoons from his father, and was influenced by the popular culture that surrounded him from Walt Disney animations to the illustrations of Dr. Seuss. He later became enthralled by avant-garde artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Pierre Alechinsky as his pictorial style developed, and the impact of their liberated, instinctual paintings and freedom of colour and form can be noted in his own compositions. During this period in the mid-1980s, however, it was Roy Lichtenstein that most captivated the artist’s imagination. Just a few months before Untitled was created, Haring had collaborated with Lichtenstein, alongside Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono, on a poster designed for UNICEF, to benefit the United States African Emergency Relief Fund. Haring was greatly inspired by the fizzing colour and bold outlines of Pop art, and indeed the pulsating spotted pattern at the base of the present work, as well as the pyramid motif itself, are reminiscent of Lichtenstein’s hallmark Ben-Day dot technique and his Pyramid paintings from the late 1960s (see Lot 46). Ever looking to the past in order to understand and critique the present, Haring’s art was as much a celebration of life as it was a wholehearted endeavour to strive for a better, fairer and more beautiful world. His enduring legacy on the art world is testament to his unique and unparalleled vision that recognised the vital significance of art on culture, history and existence itself. “Work is all I have,” he stated, “and art is more important than life” (Keith Haring cited in: Alexandra Kolossa, Keith Haring, 1958-1990: A Life For Art, Los Angeles 2004, p. 81).
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