Q&A: Caleb Hahne talks about the time Matisse stopped by

Caleb Hahne's "Beyond the Veil" series includes "Hush," acrylic, latex, and enamel on panel 9 x 9in

Artist Jamie Knowlton is currently showing her work at Derrick Velasquez’s basement gallery in West Denver. But she lives in Portland, which just happens to be where Denver artist Caleb Hahne is doing a residency. It was the perfect opportunity to have them connect. Jamie, a fan of Caleb’s, asked the questions.


Jamie Knowlton: Caleb! Welcome to the Land of Ports. Beyond my appreciation for your art, I thought of you for this interview because you’re currently doing a residency in Portland, a place I also happen to now reside. What’s the residency all about and what do you plan to do with your time here?

Caleb Hahne: This is an interesting residency because it was offered to me as a part of a show with a space here called One Grand. This really incredible person Jordan runs the gallery and has been doing these six-week residencies with selected artists since he opened the space in 2012. I really want to use this opportunity to explore some more ideas I’ve had for installations and crank out a lot of potentially good or bad paintings and drawings. I kind of want to investigate a more responsive studio practice, reacting to my inspirations right away and seeing what comes of it. I’m also curious to see how I create a routine in a new studio and in a different state.

JK: In regards to your work, you’re most known for a blend of figurative portraiture and abstract gesture making, how did this style come about and what do you feel this collage of elements provides the viewer?

CH: The blending of portraiture that happened came to me from a few different things. I was really into this book by Tristan Tzara titled 7 Dada Manifestos and it got me thinking a lot about collage and appropriation. I started pursuing collage but found its immediacy uninspiring and I always loved drawing and its meditative qualities, so I just put collage and drawing through the same filter to see what and how it would blend. The gestural mark making also came about in a similar fashion; once I got tired of completely representing the figure and multiple planes of space, I wanted to see how I could imitate and create form through line and other abstract marks. I like to think of my mark making as a trace/reference of thought.

From Caleb Hahne’s “Spectator” series. Sacred Spaces (Reflections of Eternity) Gouache, Acrylic, Graphite, Oil Pastel and Collaged Canvas on Stretched Canvas. 62.4 Inches x 54 inches. 2017

JK: I read on your website, you’re strongly influenced by Clyfford Still, Baldessari, and Matisse. The Baldessari influence via the creation of interruptions of figure through color strokes seems apparent to me, as well as the compositional intuition of Still, however can you speak more to the Matisse influence. I ask because I’m also very influenced by Matisse’s gestural interpretation of the body. How does this land for you in your work?

CH: Matisse came to my studio moodboard as a surprise to me. I never really spent time with his work until I came across one of his color palettes in a cutout. I find a common thread between Matisse, Baldessari and Still that surveys form, color and abstraction in similar ways. In an interview, Baldessari presented “Question what is there, just as much as what isn’t” and I feel like Matisse also poses this question not only in his paintings of interior spaces, but also the silhouettes of the figure. While painting and drawing I try to keep these reflections in mind, attempting to push and challenge the viewer.

JK: In general, for me, you stretch and bend time with your paintings via the incorporation of classical imagery with portraiture of friends. Not only do you collapse the pencil and paint brush as separate tools, you also collapse mode of sculpture into paint. What drives you to incorporate this classic imagery with modern portraiture, seen in Beyond the Veil for example?

CH: Beyond The Veil was the first time I had ever made paintings of people I knew and it was a challenge. I found myself walking in this space between being emotionally invested in the figure and people I was painting and using the busts as another vehicle for communication. To be honest, I probably won’t paint or draw anyone I know for a long time. The classical imagery and portraiture has always had its appeal to me because of its history and relic quality; there are many more reasons why I use them within my visual lexicon, but I feel that classical sculpture is the cannon for most peoples idea of what is deemed “good art”, so in a way, its like paintings that are laughing at themselves, drawing the art that is the sculpture. I like using multiple mediums because of its ability to create a conversation with the other moments of the painting and posing the question “Does each object on the plane exist in unison, or do they individually collide together to create a narrative?”

Caleb Hahne’s “Beyond the Veil” series on display at Rule Gallery last year. Photo by Wes Magyar.

JK: In one of your more recent series Spectators, there are several examples of a cropping or disembodiment of objects and bodies, for example a floating red curtain, hands resting on one another ensconced with white canvas, a classical bust unattached. This is something I’m extremely interested in. I’m so curious as to your approach of this view of the figure as fragmented, why do you incorporate this?

CH: An idea I became really invested in during the process of this work was the use of symbols as narrative. I approached these paintings with a collage state of mind, taking moments from a story and compiling them with others in order to create a conversation between the objects. Then there were some paintings that gave the most minimal and intimate section of a story, like the floating hand. I also spent a lot of time titling the work, hoping that the word attached to the image would carry the idea as much as the forms did (or didn’t). Like I had mentioned earlier, “Question what is there, just as much as what isn’t”.

From Caleb Hahne’s “Spectator” series. Found Cover XVIII Gouache, Acrylic, Oil Pastel, Colored Pencil on Found Book Cover. 5 Inches x 7 inches. 2017

JK: I’ve heard several people say the figure is making a return to painting. Could you speak more to that or perhaps who within that arena is of interest to you at the moment?

CH: I too have heard this and am curious about what it means. I feel like the figure has always been present. It’s the most relatable thing on the planet, so I don’t think we will ever get to a point where it’s irrelevant. Maybe it’s more about the representation of the human? Or maybe pushing the boundaries for what is representative of the figure? These are things I have been asking myself while in the studio.

JK: Denver is where your from, I think, right? In any case, how does Denver contribute to your art life and community?

CH: Yeah I’m from Denver and I feel really fortunate to be able to show at Rule Gallery. I feel like they are constantly pushing me and helping me grow. There are also artists that I look up to that I can rely on for good critique and advice. It’s nice to have some peers that make work so good it lights a fire under your ass and makes you want to work harder.

Caleb Hahne at Rule Gallery 2016. Photo by Ray Mark Rinaldi

JK: What are some of your biggest influences that aren’t inherently fine art related? For example you may say the shape of macaroni or river rocks.

CH: Boxing has really changed my life. I think there’s a lot of overlap that happens between the two, it’s more or less a cultural understanding of the two that makes them seem like they don’t.

JK: Ok, thanks Caleb!

Read more about Jamie Knowlton’s exhibit at Derrick Velasquez’s basement gallery here.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here