As part of the Spring Collection 08, ArtSlant's curated exhibit from the ArtSlant Community Profiles, Josephine Haden was chosen along with four other artists to be showcased in the ArtSlant Rackroom. Spring Collection 08 includes: Kathy Kelley, Kristi Kent, Joshua Field, Josephine Haden, and Jeff Mclane.
Born in Nashville, TN, Josephine Haden received a BS degree from Georgetown University and an MA in Art History from George Washington University. After living and working in Paris, Haden moved to Washington DC where she currently resides. Haden has exhibited extensively throughout the US and abroad, and was recently selected for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts 2008-09 Fellowship.
ArtSlant corresponded with Josephine about her current work and passions...
Josephine Haden in Etretat, France; Courtesy of the Artist
ArtSlant: Describe your work in five words. Then expound on each word.
Josephine Haden, True World, acrylic on canvas; Courtesy of the Artist
Josephine Haden: Intense landscapes and iconic figures... There is a strong landscape tradition in my family, and as a genre, there is still plenty to explore, especially now that there are no more rules. I seek to intensify spacial dimensions, nature and color to an extreme limit. The figures are contemporary icons role-playing on these limits, placed in scenes that might appear to come from some untold story. The story is the onlookers' fantasy, as today there is no shared narrative upon which to rely.
AS: Speaking of your family, what are your earliest memories of art making?
JH: Art making is self awareness. My memory of that earliest moment was being frustrated at my limitations while drawing on long car trips from Tennessee to South Dakota. In my preschool years, my family took long car trips and drawing was a natural thing to do. But real self awareness came from my grandfather's encouragement. He was a great artist, and we communicated in many ways that are impossible to explain. Around age five, I was introduced to paint at school. It was a good feeling that never stopped.
AS: Who or what influences your practice now?
JH: Popular culture, figuration in magazine ads, and all art are influential, and for some reason, Durer's engravings. I think that the gaudy colors and the arrangement of graphic images on the Internet have resulted in my exploring new presentations of perspective and imagery. On the Internet every thing comes at you from all angles. There is no subtlety. Recently, I did my first video installation whereby I projected video onto one of my paintings and made the figure in the painting come to life. I think I was somewhat, maybe only technically, influenced by Tony Oursler's video projections.
AS: How does fantasy play into your work? Are your stories autobiographical?
JH: My work is telegraphic and creates its own context. Overall, it is less fantasy than a personal collection of images. The people painted in black and white are iconic. I seek out self-absorbed subjects. The play between natural perception and unnatural abstraction is very interesting to me. Cluelessness intensifies this. The images come from a variety of sources, from photographs of people I know and people I have photographed, from people in advertisements, and from pictures of celebrities in magazines.
There are, I admit, autobiographical elements in my work. In Breaking Away, the girl in the foreground is me at the age of two on horseback in a getup. Perhaps the horses crossing the water is my childhood fantasy. Notice how the wild horses become thoroughbreds when they cross the water. What is that about? So the fantasy is my own fantasy and my interest in exploring a new aesthetic that takes advantage of centuries of art history.
Josephine Haden, Polyhedron, acrylic on canvas; Courtesy of the Artist
AS: You seem to use black-and-white imagery against a strong, almost neon palette. Discuss your use of color and illustration in your work.
JH: My current color palette is the result of years of doing non-figurative paintings. Early on and even today I am attracted to the color values of pop and op art. That is what I find interesting in much contemporary art and the bold use of colorizing that dominates graphic arts and commercial photography. My medium, acrylic, is also particularly important to my being able to create vibrant color scenes which are unlike anything you see in oil painting. The acrylic medium also flattens out images so I have developed different ways of manipulating the paint and different color schemes for different parts of the same painting.
My black and white imagery started quite accidentally. When I paint a figure, people or animals, I always started by painting in a silhouette in black and using white to define the detail, a kind of reverse painting like Elvis on black velvet, 16th century cartoons, or the reverse side of altar pieces. Painting on the black facilitated the process and yielded an interesting effect. The figure appeared like negative images, ghostlike and disconnected from the site, and I liked the appearance of alienation that occurred. I had intended on adding color but found that stopping short was better.
AS: How does your work day go in the studio? What keeps you coming back?
JH: I work in long sessions and in a kind of cyclical fashion. I have to have at least ten empty canvases ready to paint, as I do not like to stop between works in a series. I will stretch canvases for a couple of weeks and let my imagination run. Next, for another couple or more weeks, paint layers of color washes with the paintings flat on the ground. Then on easels, I work on two paintings at the same time. The work gets slower and slower, and I become more deliberate in putting in the figures. Selecting the figures can be challenging at times and can take months to decide. Periodically, I will spend a couple of weeks applying thin coats of varnish over some five or six paintings. Then there are a couple of weeks where the work gets rotated or moved around the studio, or prepared for shipping.
What motivates me to return to the studio? Probably my need to communicate through my work. So I get very motivated by deadlines and exhibitions. That is why I like to show often. I can produce a lot of work when I need to and that in and of itself motivates me.
Josephine Haden, Totem, 2006, acrylic on canvas; Courtesy of the Artist
AS: What is the magic moment for you as an artist? How about challenges?
JH: The magic moment is to finish a piece and like what you see. I want to share that feeling with the world. I do not like to deal with the challenges that artists face. The only way that I know of dealing with the challenges is to work harder, to examine my work looking at ways to evolve and innovate. Challenges compel me to evolve my work over the years.
AS: What's the gallery scene like where you live? Can you name a few shows you've seen lately that stuck?
JH: The Washington, D.C. area is really a town where politics reign supreme. That informs a lot of the gallery scene, which has changed dramatically in just the last five years. Previously, most of the galleries were in the Dupont Circle area, and they were showing very diverse art. Now there is a growing art scene downtown around 14th Street and the galleries there are more focused in their approach.
There is a really excellent article on the Washington, DC art scene in the May 2008 issue of Art in America by J.W. Mahoney entitled: "To a Different Drum."
A recent large exhibition that surprised me was the Edward Hopper show at the National Galler. It really knocked me out. I was similarly impressed by the Courbet show that I saw in Paris at the Grand Palais last fall. In very different ways, Hopper and Courbet brought such intensity to the landscape. It was also interesting to see Courbet's paintings of the rock beach at Etretat in Northern France where last summer I filmed part of my recent video installation.
I was impressed but not necessarily carried away by the Cai Guo-Qiang show at the Guggenheim. Actually, his hologram post cards at the Guggenheim gift store were great and I bought several. (I was first carried away by a hologram in Chuck Close's wonderful show at the Hirshhorn a few years back.) I was pleased to see Sven Kroger's paintings at Yvon Lambert NY. I had seen his work at Art Basel Miami in December, and at another European gallery, but had not remembered his name. In Miami, I saw a very charming video at the Rubell Family Collection by Nathalie Djurberg.
Josephine Haden, Into the Blue, acrylic on canvas; Courtesy of the Artist
AS: On a final note, tell us what you are feeling passionate about...
JH: Besides art and beautiful things, I feel passionate about people, my family, my personal environment, cuisine, animals, and money. Gee, I guess I am really French!
AS: Thanks Josephine - keep sharing your art with us!
ArtSlant would like to thank Josephine Haden for her assistance in making this interview possible.
- ArtSlant Team