Bio by Tom Mcglynn
Derek Haffar’s project is one of the itinerant mind. It’s various manifestations including painting and sculpture, interactive typed poetry, drawn portraiture, photography, and vintage three-dimensional imaging form an ad hoc stream of consciousness presented lightly to the viewer, offering structural porosity as an opportunity for the viewer to see through to the artist’s primary intent, which is to engage his audience in a lyrical dance with vagrant being.
An autobiographical note will elucidate Haffar’s meandering ontology. Raised in an academic household primarily in New Paltz, New York, due to his father’s Lebanese origins he also spent significant time in the Middle East as a child as well as in North Africa and formative years each summer with his family on Deer Island, off the coast of the province New Brunswick, Canada. He currently maintains a home and studio near Philadelphia, PA. In each of these locales he was inevitably drawn toward multiple perspectives in both intimate encounter with each environmental and cultural landscapes and in a world view that precluded any determinist ideology. His eventual artistic community based in New York City, where he maintains teaching positions at Pratt University and The New School, have provided the necessary grounding for reflection on how such a dispersive existence might take hold as an animate aesthetic in his work. Speaking to this (and to the duration of such experience), the artist himself has evocatively stated:
“I spent the early part of my life traveling to far off places, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Always uprooted and I think this affects me still…Maybe it’s all about timing or perhaps just time. This work of art making has evolved into my own trail of breadcrumbs to ultimately find my way back to where I began.”
Establishing his practice primarily in New York City has offered him opportunities to work with a wide variety of artists such as Red Grooms, Matthew Barney, Tom Otterness and Ahn Dong, with whom he collaborated on mold making and fabrication techniques. This skill set has also yielded a series of diminutive figurines of his own cast in bronze. Each can fit almost easily into the palm of one’s hand and can be likened to the animist tokens, of walrus and seals for instance, carved by historical migratory populations of the world. Yet figures in Haffar’s Bronze Age series, as he has entitled it, emits the playful aura of Alexander Calder’s Circus ( an aspect the artist shares in his Shadow Animation Series) In Driving Squirrel Series each polychromed squirrel takes off in an expressionistically- sculpted wheeled vehicle. The more minimal Dog Reading Series presents egg-bodied canines grappling lumpen books with clay-like arms. Haffar’s barely-there sculptural aesthetic, with regards classical three-dimensional form, disarmingly reinforces his larger program of exploring contingent being.
Along with traditional formats in sculpture and painting, artist has made extensive use of mixed media presentation as in his series of both imaginary and actual portraits embedded in a matrix of typed text. These present as spectral presences, structurally dependent upon their textual grounds yet not necessarily narratively connected. The artist leaves it up to the viewer to navigate that relationship. Haffar’s lyrical influences range from the concrete, plainspoken poetry of Mark Strand to the morally- freighted metaphors of T.S. Eliot’s verse. He literally reinforces the former via the implementation of a variety of vintage typewriter imprints while the latter influence comes off in complex overlayers of black and colored text. The “trail of breadcrumbs” he lays down here for both himself and the viewer consist offragments of memories and wandering idylls of emotional states which at times almost engulf these sensitively drawn portraits in clouds of discursive reflection.
The artist’s recent photography includes an inventive application of vintage View Master 3-D imaging of specific waypoints for his restless vision. One of the more significant is the environs of Deer Island, NB, where he has captured dreamy imagery of its shoreline and inlets off the Bay of Fundy. Time is an integral material for any artist to grapple and Haffar has done so with this series by photographically calibrating his “watch” to the inexorable tides of the Fundy basin. The stereoscopic lens through which these moments are projected augment the artist’s interest in poignantly elucidating fleeting existence via their paradoxically shallow depths. Like Strand, whose formative years were spent on Prince Edward Island, Haffar embraces his sense of place in this series with longing and poetic wonder.
With careful consideration of Haffar’s combined practice the viewer becomes witness to artistic inquiry in motion. Hence both its form and content demand that its audience connect the dots of its discursive turns. Importantly, the macrocosmic implications of his artistic journey are made up of very intimate moments that allow for an empathetic reading of his restless scope of vision.