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Open Studios Visit: Derek Haffar « MAD Blog
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Open Studios Visit: Derek Haffar

MAD’s Open Studios are an educational space that fosters dialogue between artists, designers, and museum visitors. It’s a space for museum visitors to encounter artists at work, to talk with them about their processes, materials, and concepts. Every day, the Open Studios hosts artists and designers as they produce their work in a public environment. The Open Studios also supports the development of original works through special projects and residencies.


Today I wanted to do a one-day project, where I could start something in the morning, and by the end of the afternoon have a finished result. And hopefully it would be a changeable piece, so that I could come in and each day that I’m here for the residency, change it, alter it somehow, and make a new piece. And I did it! I wound up with a very minimal piece that really accomplishes all the goals. So I’m feeling pretty satisfied.

Well it looked like you planned it like a bank heist.

It really went well. Everybody was here, everybody did their thing very nicely, it was a nice team effort, and that’s how I work best. I’m used to working alone, I do that quite a lot. And usually I’ll get right up to the end and come up a little bit short, so I’ll make compromises, and I always have regrets about that. But, if I have one or two really good people working with me and I can get things finished evenly all the way up to the end, then yeah, it works great. Today was one of those days.

Can you describe the steps in your process?

Sure, I make silicone molds directly off a figure. So I’ll have the model and I’ll kind of compose how I want them to be. And then I’ll mix this two-part silicone, which is specifically designed to be cast on the body…

The goop!

Yes, the goop is a body-safe silicone, it’s really expensive, so you work very deliberately. It’s the same kind that’s used for prosthetics, and special effects, scars and burn victims and stuff like that. I can pigment it, make it any color I want, so I play with that. It doesn’t effect the end result, but I do like to add a color because when it’s completely clear, I find it more difficult to work with, just seeing the thicknesses and things like that. So then the body heat triggers the catalyzation of the silicone, makes it set in four or five minutes. I work in batches, a whole torso can easily take eight or ten batches, so that’s fifty minutes there of just applying the rubber. Once I get all the rubber on, and it’s setting, I back it up with what is called a ‘mother mold,’ which is plaster,the same kind that they use at the doctor to make a cast if you break a leg or something. That is also very fast setting, so I have to work quickly and methodically, and be careful not the trap the model inside! You have to build parting lines, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Then I can start taking the model out of the mold and at this point it’s probably been an hour and a half since we started, so she’s ready to get out of there! Then she can leave and I’m left with the mold. Next I fill the mold with plaster –all the finished pieces exist as plasters, a very old-school artist material. So, brush in the plaster, back it up with some burlap, take it out of the mold and there you have it.

Your sculptures are so lifelike, it’s eerie. I guess you hear that all the time.

People are really confused, with the sculptures here, and especially when I’m working with a model like Saryta, they think Saryta is a sculpture so they’re always surprised when she smiles, or blinks, or moves, or talks. But the texture and the realism that I get in the sculptures is a little bit of a trap. It’s a hook for my viewers but it also can be a trap for me, because it’s so seductive to think that that is enough in a piece. It’s not really enough. It works to bring people into the piece but there has to be something more once they get there, or it’s a one-liner. So, have to be really careful about that. I will notice: “Oh goose bumps, oh she was cold, those come through.” But you need more than that. Now, the current pieces are more concerned with what can I not cast. How much can I leave out of the figure and still get what I want to come through?

Why do you work with the kinds of bodies you work with?

Working with a smaller, petite figure is a matter of logistics, I can work a lot more quickly, I can use a lot less material. It also feeds my expression, which is a little bit centered on the fragility of these figures, and the ease with which they are broken.So, to have somebody that’s a little bit delicate is good. I mean, the ease with which a strong person is broken could make for a really nice statement also. I just have to choose. There’s so much to do, and only so much time. Right now I’ve just been really fascinated with the brokenness of people and how they do still manage to remain whole; they’re whole yet they’re broken; they’re missing parts yet they keep going. I mean, I’m speaking through these figures also about my own life and how banged up I feel. So, it’s both.

What do you consider a successful, finished piece?

Perfect is Latin for finished, actually. So there’s that. Finishing something is a level of perfection for me! I like to get this balance between something coming apart and coming together. Maybe looking at it you can’t really tell: is it coming apart or is it just about to become a whole? It’s fresh; you haven’t worked the life out of it, there’s still room for the viewer to bring something to it. I think it’s something like that. Paintings were a real problem for me, trying to finish a painting, I never really knew. And I was not a great painter because I would always work them to oblivion, and there would be nothing left, so it was all experience and there was never any enjoyable painting at the end of the process. With sculpture, I like it more because it’s a little more forgiving.

Thanks very much Derek! This has been so fun!



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