|Grant Haffner works to perfect the art of keeping busy|
Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
by Pat Rogers
Grant Haffner is a busy man. So busy, he had to bypass the Saturday opening of a two-person exhibit featuring his artwork at Sen Spice Lounge in Sag Harbor. In a sense, his crowded schedule isn’t all that unusual, and not completely by choice: the Springs artist’s agenda typifies the struggle of many area artists who juggle employment, financial obligations, making new work, and trying to secure spaces where their art can be seen. Attending art openings to see the work unveiled for the public is a perk that cannot always be enjoyed. Mr. Haffner wears one additional hat. He is one of the movers and shakers of Bonac Tonic—a grass roots art collective that stages group shows. Bonac Tonic exhibitions typically include founding members: Mr. Haffner, Scott Gibbons, Justin Smith and Carly Haffner, his twin sister. The group has a core of seven members.
Most times, the exhibiting artist list is greatly expanded. The shows—held several times a year—can be open calls, collaborations with other art groups or include multiple artists invited to exhibit. Shows have been held at Ashawagh Hall, Clovis Point vineyard in Southold and art fairs in Miami and Manhattan.
The community aspect is important to Mr. Haffner. So is making his art. Since bursting onto the area art scene three years ago, Mr. Haffner manages those obligations he holds dear while pushing forward with his art. His paintings have a consistent and identifiable style: they depict local landscapes in Day-Glo colors that zoom on the canvas. The paintings typically feature actual roads that divide pastoral views dotted with telephone poles that announce man’s hand.
The images are intended as a commentary on development of the East End, Mr. Haffner said. The unusual views are his way of capturing the place he grew up. Driving the major byways—traveling from work to home as day yields to dusk—was a quiet time of peace. The solitary drive allowed time for the mind to wander and the eye to notice how the colors of a sunset draped nature in a veil that was beautiful and different.
“There’s something about being on the road that’s romantic,” Mr. Haffner said. “I think a lot of people can relate to taking road trips and watching the scenery go by. I lived in a busy house, so the time driving home from work was the only time I had to myself that was quiet and peaceful. The way that the sunset changes the colors on the plants and trees along the side of the road at that time of day was so beautiful I wanted to paint it.”
Each of his paintings is imbued with emotion and the pleasure Mr. Haffner feels spending time in nature, channeling the feelings Mr. Haffner experienced while driving on particular days. The emotional component is important because it’s another point of access for viewers.
“Emotions are so much a part of our lives and I find that people seem to turn to landscapes when they need to relax—like taking a walk on a nature trail or to simply escape their daily routines or take in some calm fresh air.”
Mr. Haffner’s love of nature pulled him toward landscape painting and keeps him there. One of his non-art jobs is working in his landscape business. “My paintings become these little windows through which I can peek into a remembered moment or a feeling, or a particular time of day or year or place that kind of makes my heart flutter. Or maybe it sparks a memory of a time or a story of home or being on the road on an adventure.”
The unusual color palette and the sense of motion adds an unusual twist to typical landscape subjects. The range of color values he sees seems to differ from many people’s, he said, and this palette makes its way into his work. The motion created by strands of telephone lines painted together conjures the sensation of moving along a road that stretches out ahead. The telephone poles give the paintings depth and help create an unusual viewpoint.
Moving forward, he plans to incorporate alternate views of roadside accoutrements that have become part of the public consciousness. The blue gas ball that used to command attention in Sag Harbor is one example. So is the Stargazer deer sculpture in Manorville adjacent to Route 111 and the Big Duck, currently nesting by Route 24 in Flanders.
“It’s staying with the same theme of landscapes and the roads,” Mr. Haffner said. “It’s just moving your eye a little to the right or to the left.”
Now that it’s winter, it’s time to paint. Mr. Haffner concentrates most of his energy on painting when landscaping isn’t demanding and there are few Bonac Tonic shows to mount. Organizing his time and knowing how to divide it among the year’s demands is the trick to remaining a painter, he said. The off season is when he tries to make enough paintings to carry him through most of the active exhibition season. When shows are imminent, he will burn the midnight oil to complete new works so the opportunity to fill the space allotted doesn’t pass him by.
Painting in concentrated spurts as time allows lets his painting technique evolve naturally. It also gives him the distance to review paintings made previously and embark on new paths. Viewing the year as a whole has the benefit of helping him to understand the cyclical nature of being an artist, the role time plays, and working through a vision as it unfolds, he said. The show at Sen Spice Lounge includes paintings made from January through March 2008 and one or two made recently, specifically for the show. Over time, his painting style has changed and viewing the work is like taking a trip through the recent past.
“The paintings I’m working on now will not be shown for months or another year, and they become old to me,” he said. “But when they’re shown—brand new to someone else—I see them in another light. It’s strange, but that’s just the cycle of making art and working through your vision.”