David LaChapelle Parts With Painting Created in Keith Haring’s Final Days

Haring painted the canvas shortly before he died of AIDS.

Keith Haring, The Last Rainforest (1989). Courtesy of Sotheby's London.
Keith Haring, The Last Rainforest (1989). Courtesy of Sotheby's London.

Before his death at 31 years old, Keith Haring created The Last Rainforest. This month, Sotheby’s London is offering the rare work on canvas from the collection of photographer David LaChapelle in its Contemporary Art Evening Auction on June 28th. It’s estimated to sell for £2,000,000–3,000,000 ($2,900,000–4,340,000).

“Most of the time he was painting on tarps and other things, but these pictures on canvas–these were different,” LaChapelle told Sotheby’s associate specialist David Galperin in an interview shared exclusively with artnet News. “He had a sense of his time running out, and he really wanted to say something with these works. There is an urgency to them.”

The Last Rainforest was painted during the last few months of Haring’s life, before he died of AIDS in February 1990.

“Keith knew he was dying when he made it. He was painting three paintings at the time, including The Last Rainforest. Tony had gotten him 100 canvases, because that’s what Keith had asked for; he wanted 100 paintings, but finished only three,” LaChapelle added.

Keith Haring, <em>The Last Rainforest</em> (1989) being installed at Sotheby's London next to Andy Warhol, <em>Four Marilynd (Reversal Series)</em> 1979–86. Courtesy of Sotheby's London.

Keith Haring, The Last Rainforest (1989) being installed at Sotheby’s London next to Andy Warhol, Four Marilynd (Reversal Series) 1979–86. Courtesy of Sotheby’s London.

The painting was first exhibited in Atlanta, at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, in 1992. Since then, it’s been shown at a number of institutions, including during “Keith Haring: A Retrospective,” which appeared at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, and Wellington’s City Gallery between 1997 and 1999.

Most recently, it was part of “Keith Haring: The Political Line,” on view at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, April 2013–February 2015.

“It should be viewed as Haring’s artistic last will and testament; a socio-political warning shot to those who would outlive him and a formal summation of his cruelly curtailed career,” Sotheby’s wrote of the canvas in the auction catalogue.

LaChapelle has owned the painting since 2001, when he purchased it from Tony Shafrazi, who represented both artists. “I just fell in love with the painting. I thought it was prophetic,” he explained.

“At first glance, the picture has this very hellish feel: it’s very Hieronymous Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights. You have these various layers, which give it depth,” said LaChapelle. “This is one of the most complex paintings he ever painted.”

Keith Haring, <em>The Last Rainforest</em> (1989), detail showing the baby. Courtesy of Sotheby's London.

Keith Haring, The Last Rainforest (1989), detail showing the baby. Courtesy of Sotheby’s London.

Though it’s hard to spot amid the visually-dense canvas, Haring also inserted his signature crawling baby in the center of the work.

“It’s sitting in Lotus position, protected within the womb-like hollow of the tree, with rays coming out of his head,” LaChapelle pointed out, admitting that it took him three months to spot it.

“In Keith’s earlier paintings, at first, he was always crawling. Now, it is like the baby has reached his destination and is enlightened. So there is optimism within all of that horror,” he added. “Without the baby, the painting is purely apocalyptic and does not have the sense of hope that Keith had.”


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