Don Haggerty, artist
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2012 Don Haggerty
1. How do
you describe yourself or your approach as an artist—as more of a planned out
methodical approach, or more of an organic freestyle approach?
Mine is definitely a both/and approach. I usually begin a painting or
sculpture with an image in mind of where I want to go with the piece.
But my process from there is very much an open one.
The particulars of this approach have come to be embodied in my own
one-person art movement that I call “Revelationalism”. Revelationalism
is based on the premise that one thing always leads to another, each step
thus being “revealed” as a result of prior actions. As such, my art
making process, rather than being one of methodical execution, is one of
attentive watching and listening, then acting according to what I see and
hear. You might think of it as a conversation, which implies both
listening and expressing, each at its appropriate time. Standing back to
view a painting in progress really means standing back to listen.
Stepping forward to apply the next brush stroke really means stepping
forward to speak.
As with any good conversation, the process is dynamic and unpredictable. And
as time passes, because of the revelations that are received and acted on,
Revelationalism results naturally in a somewhat diverse body of work. The
beauty, however, is that Revelationalism is also the element that binds the
diversity together into a cohesive body of work that tells a story of an
artist’s inspirations, ideas and actions.
2. Can you describe what your favorite
moment is throughout your process of creating a work of art?
My favorite moments in the process of creating art are what I’ve come to
call “gifting moments”. These moments inevitably come by surprise, and
often when least expected.
A poignant example happened to me one day when I was walking out of the gym
on a drizzly, cold Seattle day. I was approaching my car when I
happened to look down, and there at my feet was something of amazing beauty.
On closer examination, I found it was an old shoelace that had fallen into a
most interesting pattern and had subsequently been flattened by the tires of
countless cars, dampened by much drizzle and stiffened by much sun. I
carefully pealed it from the pavement and took it home.
Once home, it wasn’t long before my artist instinct led me to mount, sign
and frame this thing of beauty. Almost immediately, the humble
shoelace was accepted to an exhibition of found art in a museum in New
Jersey. It then turned right around and went to a gallery show in
Maryland. (The title of the shoelace piece is “By Magic”, and it can be seen
on my web site under the “Found Art”
To me, the whole story of the shoelace is very much the story of my art
making. And it has completely transformed my idea of what it is that
makes an artist a gifted artist. On some level, I used to think of a
gifted artist as one who had an endless reservoir of ideas and a
supernatural capacity to manifest those ideas. Today I think of the
gifted artist as one who lives their life in such a way that they know a
gift when they see it. And having seen it, they then embrace, nurture
and transform the gift, finally passing it along as a gift to yet others.
This is what I like to think of as the “gifted artist”. And it’s the
reason I’ve come to watch for those gifting moments—whether I’m walking
across a parking lot or putting paint on a canvas—and to cherish them when
3. Do you have a favorite object or
method/technique you use to create art that is completely unique to you?
I’m both a figurative painter and sculptor, and in my approach to my
paintings, I’ve always been a believer that if a painting’s negative
spaces—all those areas that surround a painting’s subject—are interesting
and well tended to, a good painting is almost assured. This has led me
to be a lover of line, form and color—elements which serve to highlight the
beauty of any part of the canvas, whether it be a positive form or a
It is this love for the various spaces in my paintings that led very
naturally into my sculptural work. In my three-dimensional work, I
extract very literally the negative spaces from my paintings and make them
the positive forms of three-dimensional sculptures, creating works which at
first glance appear to be entirely abstract pieces, but which on further
study, reveal the figure within the negative voids that first inspired the
piece. As such, it is perhaps my sculptural work that reveals most
clearly the aspects of my art that are unique to me as an artist. This
play of positive forms and negative spaces continues to inform my work in
the play back and forth between sculpture and painting. Each one
continues to build on the other.
4. As an Artist, what is your feeling on
modern art today?
If I wasn’t paying any attention, it would be easy to wake up each morning
thinking it impossible that anything could happen in art today that hasn’t
already been done. But to my amazement, I seem to encounter something
new almost every day. Artists are amazing people. And the art they
make is equally so. I think it a beautiful thing that I have access to
the full gamut—to art that has been made and preserved through the
centuries, to art being created today that reflects back to the various
artistic traditions—from all parts of the world, and to art that is on the
very leading edge of this vast artistic stream. Rather than slowing or
becoming dulled, today’s art is more energetic, vibrant and fresh than ever.
5. Do you feel that it is easier or more
difficult as an artist to make a mark in modern society today?
I have to say I feel it’s both easier and harder. The “connectivity” made
possible today through the Internet, combined with the amazing number of
venues—both live and virtual—that are continually putting out calls to
artists, has opened more doors for me than I ever would have imagined
possible even a short time ago. This is the “easier” side
The “harder” side is that this new connectivity has also provided a direct
link to all artists whose work is available to experience online. This
is a sure recipe for overwhelm, both from the standpoint of intake
saturation, and from the unavoidable realization that there are millions of
artists in the world who are all working to “make their mark”. On a
bad day, I may find myself asking how could I, an individual artist,
possibly make any lasting impact in the midst of such numbers? On a
good day, however—which most of mine are—I live in the realization that art,
in its true and pure form, is unique to each individual artist. I’m reminded
to remain true to myself and to make art that is truly mine. I can
therefore rejoice in my work, as I can rejoice in the work of every one of
my fellow artists in the world. I find myself not having to worry
about making my mark. It’s already been made.
6. What are you currently working on, or are
you currently in between projects on a hiatus?
Right now, I’m working on a number of paintings, both in oil-and-tempera and
oil-on-canvas. A driver behind these happens to be several upcoming
exhibitions—always good incentive for creating new work. I’m also in
the process of creating two new sculptures for outdoor display. These
will be enlargements of two of my small sculptures, a process that nicely
complements my painting in its demands for an entirely different “language”
7. Name one work that immediately inspired
or changed your thinking as an artist?
A work that inspired a whole new approach in my art happens to have been a
modern ballet. My wife and I had acquired tickets through a silent
auction. After arriving at the performance hall, we found ourselves
seated very close to center, and in the second row. I don’t know how
we could have been better positioned to thoroughly enjoy the performance.
Being a modern ballet, the dancers were backlit through most of the
performance, causing them to be silhouetted as dark forms against a lighter
background. With the lighting thus, as I gazed, I found myself
mesmerized by the constantly moving, very beautiful shapes formed by the
empty spaces between and among the dancers. For me that evening, those
dancing negative spaces became the stars of the show!
Following this experience, I found myself searching intently for a medium
that would allow me to extract the negative forms that I’ve always loved and
have been so attentive to in my paintings, and make them become the positive
forms of three-dimensional sculptures. The outcome is seen in my
sculptures today in which the forms can be enjoyed as abstract pieces purely
for their shapes, colors and relationships. When attention is given to
the negative spaces between, however, the figure that first inspired the
piece reappears within the void—sometimes quite suddenly—inevitably bringing
a special sense of joy to the viewer.
That night at the ballet was indeed a turning point in my work. I’ve
come to refer to such turning points as “gifting moments”. And that
moment certainly was a gift.
8. If you could exhibit alongside any two
artists, living or dead, who would they be?
Well, I guess I’d first ask, can I do a group show instead? And if so, I’d
invite Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Gustav Klimt and John William
Waterhouse. And of course, I’d include N.C. Wyeth (Andrew’s dad), and for
sure Bill Cumming. I’d also ask each of the abstract expressionists to
include a piece or two—Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Hans
Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman, Jackson
Pollock and Clifford Still, to name just a few. Also included would be
Robert Rauschenberg and Marcel Duchamp. Sculptors represented would
definitely include Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. And to top things off,
there would be dot painters from Australia and brush painters from Asia. As
you can imagine, it would be quite a party! The art would be great, but
imagine the conversations. Do I really have to pick just two?