Keith Haring at Casino Knokke

Haring working on his mural at Casino Knokke, 1987

In 1987, Haring was invited to Knokke, Belgium by Roger Nellens to paint a mural at the casino there. Gustave Nellens, Rogers father, had commission murals by René Magritte and Paul Delvaux years earlier, and Roger followed suit by approaching Haring for a mural and proposing an exhibition of the artists work. To announce the opening of the exhibition, a select group of guests were invited to un déJeuner sur l'herbe (a lunch on the lawn) at the Nellens' home. On the invitations, Haring added green dots by hand to represent grass, and signed and sketched to the verso of each example. The luncheon took place in the Nellens’ sprawling garden situated next The Dragon, a fantastical playhouse designed by Niki de Saint Phalle, (Haring stayed in the playhouse during his time in Knokke and declared it one of his favorite places to work). During the party, Haring sketched on a helmet owned by one of the guests. At the time, Elderid mountain climbing helmets were also popular with skateboarders, hence the energetic skateboarding figure rendered by the artist on the present lot.

The Dragon by Niki de Saint Phalle, 1973

The moon was almost full last night and sleeping inside the Dragon at the Nellens’ house was really strange… light was pouring through all the round holes in the windows… Sleeping in Niki’s dragon is a lot like a dream anyway.

Keith Haring

Keith Haring 1958–1990

Keith Haring was born in 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania. From a young age he enjoyed drawing, especially Disney characters and other cartoons. He initially wanted to become a commercial artist but after a year at the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh, Haring dropped, moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Haring immediately felt connected to the thriving alternative arts scene happening downtown in the late 1970s and became friends with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf.

Inspired by the ideals of “art as life” and moving the art experience out of galleries and into the streets, Haring’s first major works were his subway drawings. Haring produced over one hundred of these public works between 1980 and 1985, integrating his now-iconic exuberant, cartoonish outlined figures into everyday public space in a way that directly engaged its viewers. Haring recalled that the most important aspects of these works was the immediate engagement people had with them, asking him “what does it mean?” and giving him feedback that he’d then incorporate into future drawings. In this way, these works became reflections of the people who viewed them, responsive to and in dialogue with their environment. These works quickly garnered the attention of tastemakers in New York and his first solo exhibition was held at Westbeth Painters Space in 1981 and a celebrated show debuted at the high-profile Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York the following year.

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