Havel on Havel

Joseph Havel (American, b. 1954) was the featured artist at the Nasher Sculpture Center’s 360 Speaker Series this Saturday.

I’ve admired this Houston-based sculptor’s work for many years, attended his openings at Talley Dunn Gallery in Dallas, and was thrilled to learn more about his background, thought process and career path.

Joseph Havel was appointed Director of the prestigious Core Residency Program at the Glassell School of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1991. (photo: Mayra Beltran, Houston Chronicle | chron.com)

As usual, I’ll share several stories that resonated with me. Hopefully, you will also find them of interest.

He said that this was a special talk for him. One that propelled him to remember, revisit and show images of early work because Dallas has special and historic importance for his career path. He came to this area from the East coast for his first post-graduate teaching position at Austin College in Sherman, TX. The town is only 60 miles North of Dallas. He found himself driving most nights into downtown Dallas, specifically Deep Ellum where there was a very happening, active arts scene in 1979. This was a place where his work was embraced and recognized – a place of many firsts:

  • His first show in a non-profit space was at 500X, which still operates as an Artists’ Coop in Deep Ellum.
  • The Dallas Museum of Art was the first museum to acquire his work.
  • He completed his first sale to a private collector, who happened to be seated in the audience on Saturday and was visibly proud to be part of Havel’s life story.
  • The first cast bronze sculpture he sold was to a Dallas collector.
  • Michael Auping, Chief Curator of The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, asked Havel if he planned on casting a cloth curtain sculpture in bronze. Havel quickly responded, “Of course!” Most likely he would not have taken this next step without Auping’s prodding. The outcome of the story? This bronze piece was museum-ready and was selected for the 2000 Whitney Biennial in New York. The biennial is an art showcase known as a career-making vehicle and acknowledgement that an artist has arrived on the national scene.

In the photo below, notice the draped sculpture to the left. It resembles the work Havel carried – literally carried – to a Paris show at Le Palais de Tokyo.

Joseph Havel: A Decade of Sculpture | Authors: Peter Doroshenko, Alison de Lima Greene . (source: Scala Publishers)

Havel told us he wanted to pack an entire gallery exhibition in two suitcases – no professional handlers, no complex customs and tariffs, the fewest of encumbrances. He did this by making “soft sculpture” art – like the large square “mesh” of hand-sewn shirt labels in the image above. The square was hung from one of its corners, causing a fluid drape that extended from the gallery’s ceiling beam to the floor. This renowned artist rolled two suitcases through the Tuileries Gardens en route to the gallery space. I was amused by Havel’s motivation, careful planning and desire to schlep a manageable load.

Tuileries Garden | Paris

Paris was the subject of another story he shared with us. He was there for a solo show on September 12, 2001 – buffered by the Atlantic Ocean from Ground Zero and 9/11 terrorist attacks. Havel was so moved by the condolences from Parisians when they realized he was from the USA that he knew his next show in the “City of Light” would have an American theme. Stars and stripes from our flag were repurposed into striking objects. Below are two images from these explorations which are still ongoing.

Cut-up American flags, needles and thread | 36” diameter
(photo: William Shearburn Gallery, St. Louis)

Single Star (2007) | Bronze with patina | 26 x 16 x 12 inches (photo: Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans)

Joseph Havel is one of many who’ve visited the Nasher Sculpture Center to talk about work and life as an artist. For people intrigued by the creative process, I highly recommend the next 360 Speaker Series guests who are:

  • The Art Guys on July 14th
  • Kathryn Andrews on August 25th

I’m taking a short summer vacation – be back July 15th.

Stay cool,


John Singer Sargent visits Fort Worth

John Singer Sargent is on my Top Ten List of best painters who ever lived. The Clark Art Institute has lent four of his paintings to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. One of them – “Fumée d’Ambres Gris” (1880) – is among my Sargent favorites.

Why is he in my pantheon? One reason is his masterful handling of paint. As seen in “Fumée” (refer to image below), Sargent manipulates the color white in a way that every studio art teacher can use as a textbook example of how to handle white. There is no color white in nature; it exists only in a can or tube of manufactured paint. And, every beginner painter (myself included) automatically uses it straight from the tube; and, thus fails to capture the essence of sunlight or the subtle recesses of a distant wall. From Sargent we learn a trade secret: mix white with other colors to capture on canvas what you see in life. To imitate sunlight, a touch of orange is the secret. To render a remote corner, violet grey is the solution. “Fumée“is basically a monochromatic painting, but on examination you rarely see white “straight” from the tube.

Here are a few other reasons, which are evident in “Fumée,” that I greatly admire Sargent. His compositions are cropped, a device that was modern for his time. He was innovative in his choice of subject matter, using travels to exotic locales for ideas. The North African woman inhaling vapors in “Fumée” was an image from a trip to Tangier.

Fumée d’Ambre Gris (1880) | Artist: John Singer Sargent | Clark Art Institute | Purchased in 1914 by Sterling Clark for $5,000.

Since I’ve opened and shared my art voting book, my number one favorite Sargent painting is “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” which is on permanent display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). I remember being fortunate my senior year of college when I was selected to intern at the MFA. I’d take breaks and “visit” this painting – simply staring firsthand at the masterpiece that I had seen in an Art History slide lecture. Decades later I lived in the Boston area and would again sit on the same wooden bench before the sisters and sketch as a way to practice drawing and linger with Sargent. The study below is of eight-year old Maria Louisa (the sister in the left most corner). Of note, the Boit heirs gave the MFA the six-foot-tall, blue-and-white vases you see in the painting. They now flank this nearly life-size (87-3/8” x 87-5/8”) group portrait.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) | Artist: John Singer Sargent | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston | The portrait captures the (almost too) well-mannered sisters.

From my sketch pad (2002) | Study of Maria Louisa, one of four sisters in Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit”

If you are a Sargent fan or simply like looking at an excellent painter’s work, I recommend the drive to Fort Worth. “Sargent’s Youthful Genius” is open through June 17th, as is “The Age of Impressionism: Great French Paintings from the Clark” across the street at the Kimball Art Museum.

…until next Sunday.

Architecture SPCA: Designing for a Good Cause

Like me, maybe you have been driving West on I-30 from Dallas towards Fort Worth wondering about the bright blue tower and construction site at the Hampton Road exit. Here’s the scoop: This beauty is the new Dallas SPCA Animal Care and Adoption Center which houses the most adorable animals – dogs and cats of all ages, a bunny rabbit and several guinea pigs – in a spatial concept new and revolutionary to the world of public animal shelters.

Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center: SCPA Exterior | Dallas, Texas | Architects: Hinojosa Architects & Interiors Designs (photo: Hinojosa Architects)

Gus Hinojosa, AIA, Managing Principal, and his team at Hinojosa Architects and Interiors (HAI) incorporated design ideas and research from the veterinarian and retail industries to improve the adoption experience and foster healthier animals. Functional and aesthetic details shaped all areas for the rescued animals, wellness and spay/neuter services, medical wing and surgery suite.

The SPCA is another example of why I believe good (meaning excellent) design and architecture make a positive difference in our lives, and sometimes our pets. Dallas’ newest SPCA shows off the animals. The sunny, colorful place welcomes you to stay and play. In this space, I sense the animals are honored guests; and maybe, if I could read their minds, they would agree. HAI’s vision from the start was to “re-define the standard animal shelter from a depressing experience into one which is enjoyable and enlightening.”

Aren’t I cute puppy? I like my candy-colored dog bed.

At last night’s reception, I experienced this concept with other admirers, and will be back to scout out the cats in their cool condos. I’m in the market for the right furball fit. When you visit, admire the modern design of the scratching posts, notice the signage graphics and sit on a banquette covered with fabrics by William Wegman, the artist best known for his Weimaraner photographs.

Even in the world of non-profits, good causes and architectural design, there’s always a bottom-line consideration. Happily, the Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center response to-date is working as seen on January 2nd, the first day of operation, when 24 animals were adopted and yesterday when 35+ animals found new homes.