Don Haggerty Interviewed by Artkipedia
August 2012--Artkipedia International Artist of Interest Feature

Don Haggerty, artist

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        Copyright © 2012 Don Haggerty

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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” link.)

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 they occur.

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 negative space.

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” of creation.

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?