Executed in ink on wood, Keith Haring’s Untitled
(1983) encapsulates the American artist’s celebrated pictorial practice, which poignantly merged street art with high culture in an unlikely – and utopic – union. Despite his tragically short life, curtailed at the tender age of thirty-one, Haring nonetheless enjoyed an intensely prolific and illustrious career, rising to prominence in the early 1980s with his graffiti subway drawings, before spiralling meteorically into an art world sensation. Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1958, Haring moved to New York City in 1978, where he became submerged in the thriving underground art and music scene. Alongside his contemporaries such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, Haring sought to imbue his works with the spirit of the times, drawing from the exploding downtown New York counterculture of rap, hip-hop, street dance, and graffiti art. Studying on a scholarship at the School of Visual Arts, he developed a distinctive iconography of signs, symbols and ciphers, including his renowned ‘radiant baby’ motif, as exemplified in Untitled
, as well as dancing figures, barking dogs, flying saucers, and pyramids. These motifs began to populate his artworks, defying traditional limitations as they spilled over from his canvases and works on paper onto found wooden boards, the walls of the streets, and the subway. Delineated in bold, black, cartoonish lines, Haring envisaged a universal language of direct and simplified form and popping primary colours: “A more holistic and basic idea of wanting to incorporate [art] into every part of life,” he explained, “less as an egotistical exercise and more natural somehow. I don’t know how to exactly explain it. Taking it off the pedestal. I’m giving it back to the people, I guess” (Keith Haring cited in: Daniel Drenger, ‘Art and Life: An Interview with Keith Haring,’ Columbia Art Review
, Spring 1988, p. 53).
Of utmost importance to Haring during the time of this work's creation was the concept of the technological revolution, which precipitated conflicting feelings of awe-struck beguilement and trepidation, and is most immediately referenced through Haring’s attentiveness to the thunderous growth of 1980s computer and television culture and the consequential implications of mass media in a rapidly globalised society. Indeed, the dancers in Untitled hold a television set above their heads like a trophy or deity, from which emanates an image of Haring’s iconic radiant baby – a symbol for the youthful innocence, purity, goodness, and potential of his generation. An iconic work from Haring’s oeuvre, Untitled comes from the Collection of Alessandro Grassi, Milan, and has been exhibited in shows in both Venice and Rovereto. Enthralling and vivacious, the work beautifully embodies the dizzying energy and sense of possibility that permeated the New York cultural scene during the 1980s.