Menzies Art Brands



The impressive, albeit brief, career of Keith Haring began amongst New Yorks vibrant avant-garde street art scene in the early 1980s. Successful artists rely on commercial galleries to present their works to the public, Haring was a revolutionary in that he took his art directly to the community. Using the readily available medium of chalk he began scrawling his designs in rapid, simple yet energetic lines of white across the subways black advertising panels. The themes of his drawings were social issues close to his heart as well as sex, birth and death. The rhythmic white-powder drawings on the matte-black surface created graphically effective imagery. His outlined shapes and simplified forms ensured the attention of passers-by was grabbed, held and his imagery instilled in the collective conscience. The artist remarks:

The context of where you do something is going to have an effect. The subway drawings were, as much as they were drawings, performances. It was where I learned how to draw in public. You draw in front of people. For me it was a whole sort of philosophical and sociological experiment.1

The subway drawings were famous, iconographic, prolific and easily attributed to Haring. What takes most artists decades in finding their voice or visual language seemed to pour readily from the artist. He was soon signed to one of New Yorks leading galleries, Tony Shafrazi Gallery. After being enthralled by the artists subway drawings it was through this gallery in 1982 that the owner of Untitled 1984, met Haring and the seed to bring the artist to Australia was planted.

The owner of Untited 1984, acting on behalf of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, was instrumental in bringing Haring on his first and only visit to Australia in 1984. It was during this trip that the artist worked on several public projects including large-scale murals at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the now heritage-listed mural on Johnson Street in Collingwood this mural is one of only thirty-one left globally.

New York was the centre of contemporary art in the 1980s; pop art was at its pinnacle, and through being exposed to Haring, one of the pioneers of this movement, Australia was exposed to a new way of seeing, creating and experiencing art. This visit would change Australian art history forever. Street artists and contemporary artists alike drew inspiration from Haring, not only in the way he created art, its accessibility and the performance aspect but also the blatant advocacy for social justice.

In the year the present work was painted, Haring was a twenty six-year-old artist with nineteen solo exhibitions under his belt - he was well established in the contemporary art scene. Haring was on an upward trajectory to fame achieved by the likes Andy Warhol (1928-1987), John-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1987)and Yoko Ono (born 1933), all of whom were his friends. At his birthday party that year, his friend Madonna debuted her song Like A Virgin.

The present work displays all the quintessential elements characteristic of Harings work. The bold lines, reduced palette and the vibrating outlined figures all present. Only this work has a unique element not seen in any other of the artists works: the artist has placed one of his iconic human figures into the pouch of a kangaroo an element introduced perhaps as an ode to Australia, a tribute to his visit or a broader reference to mans relationship with nature. In respect to the thematic representation in his work the artist says:

A lot of times the images are simply born out of the need to do something different. Sometimes they come from consciously wanting to get some idea across. The challenge is to be in a state of mind which allows spontaneity and chance while still maintaining a level of awareness which allows you to shape and control the image. Every drawing is a performance and a ritual. 2

Since his death at the tender age of thirty-one, Haring has been the subject of numerous international retrospectives. His artworks are held in major museums and galleries all around the world. More and more, his notoriety continues to flourish and is appreciated now on a greater scale than ever before.


1. Rubell, J., Keith Haring: The Last Interview, Arts Magazine, September 1990, p. 59
2. Haring, K., Keith Haring Journals, Penguin Group, New York, 1996, p.89

Tessa Adele Dorman BFA, MA (Art History and Theory)

We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.