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Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 Studio Visits: Richard Haden

Richard Haden working in his garage studio.

In conjunction with recent collaborations between Thomas Hollingworth, Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 (Magazine pg. 100), Modern Luxury (Miami) and NO MAD Paper, which feature Miami’s cultural highlights, ARTLURKER is presenting studio visits of select Miami based contemporary artists. Running concurrently with Art Basel Miami Beach the aim of these features is to venerate the cities native artistic wealth and honor those who continue to make Miami what it is.

Richard Haden carves hyper-realistic objects out of wood choosing everyday objects as rhetorical devices. Uninterested in pushing ideologies, his work comments on contemporary issues such as waste, consumption, exploitation, alienation, and private property. Richard Haden’s work is currently exhibited at Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 with Allan Stone Gallery, at SCOPE MIAMI 2008 with Dorsch Gallery, at Aqua with Lincart, and in Shapeshifter, a group exhibition at Dorsch Gallery which opened November 29th.

Unflappable Barricade, 2008. Polychromed wood. 67 x 11 x 6 inches.

Underside of Unflappable Barricade, 2008. Polychromed wood. 67 x 11 x 6 inches.

What is the relationship between your medium and your subject?

I carve in wood because it is a neutral medium not because I choose to be a wood carver in the traditional sense. I could work in clay, resins or other sordid toxic materials, but the point is that I use wood because it is easy to manipulate, and reasonably safe to work with. The medium is just the means to serve the end of a concentrated discourse. I want to make an object that has great rhetorical depth as 3D trope or Metaphor. I choose to not simply place a ready-made on a pedestal as another attempt at undermining an institution. In a nut shell, I remake traumatized ready-mades to serve a different end. That end is communication, referent, narrative, and so on. The form of the image is important as well as I carefully concern myself with how I edit the forms as I carve. I add to, extract, sharpen, accentuate and so on. The image is shaped into a hyper-real investment embodied with craft and wit. The remade ready made has in essence the ability to suspend belief; dislocate the viewer from expectations that further cause one to actively re-participate in and reinvent the process.

Where do you source your reference material?

I smash stuff up myself sometimes, but generally I try to just find stuff that’s already partly dented up, things that have been thrown away; I pick up out of garbage piles in the water or on the street. Kind of like recycling in a way. Only once when I lived in San Francisco did I buy a new piece to dent up.  It was this 24 inch stainless steel salad bowl. I had wanted a round form and I couldn’t find one so I actually had to go buy one. So I dented it all up, didn’t like it and had to go spend another seventy-five dollars to get another one. That’s basically the only time I have ever bought something. Generally I like taking advantage of things that have been thrown away.

Cold Storage (detail),2008. Painted wood. 31 x 42 x 3 inches

Your attention to detail is staggering.

Yeah! The fridge doors aren’t installed the way they should be right now. Presently you get the sense that there’s something behind them where as when they get properly installed they’re set into the wall so you just get the sense of the surface. To get the effects I paint four of five layers on them then scrape back into the paint. I paint rust onto it too. Actually this rust happens to be pastel, but for a lot of my rust I use oil paint. I find It gives more of a trace of fire. Almost like Nicolas Lobo left one of his alien petri dishes inside of my refrigerator and this is what happened.

Work in progress.

This looks like a plastic surgeons prep work. Is this method of topographical delineation an established thing or did you invent this?

It’s my invention. I have tools I made too, but I don’t use them any more. Basically it’s just a way for me to map out and remember depth in detail; it’s a way for me to draw. Before, when I used to start, I would do it all by eye and it would take forever, or I would just use calipers to measure, but this grid system is a very mechanical process and it helps, until I actually get down to these lines which may or may not be there. At that point I start editing and playing. The circles with the cross hairs will all be bumps. It’s copying to a certain point, but then I start editing the forms. A lot of times I’ll envisage human anatomy and play upon that. A part might look like buttocks for example or it might look like breasts, it might have a lot more going on. Other forms might make you feel a little scared so if I see that I will accentuate it. A lot of it has to do with composition although in a nutshell it looks like I am simply copying.

And it has a lot to do with you and whether you want to see buttocks. One assumes that you do?

Yeah. Right. It also has a lot to do with creating. There’s lots of ways to make something dented. You could dent something up that looks more punk rock; it doesn’t just have to be this pretty dented piece of garbage.

Creating all of these methods presumably enables you to work faster but does it help the art?

You’ve definitely got to be invested in your work. In the hyper realist thing you’ve got Gavin Turk, Ron Muick and Duane Hanson, although he actually dressed his work up and despite being heavily invested in the making of objects also has some kind of political content behind his work. That’s one of the reasons that I like some Miami artists like Frances Trombly who go past that and are only invested in the craft and more about what that means.

Reference material for Cold Storage (detail),2008. Painted wood. 31 x 42 x 3 inches.

Cold Storage (detail),2008. Painted wood. 31 x 42 x 3 inches.

How do you differentiate yourself from other artists who recreate stuff?

People that just copy things, people that just have craft and excel at crafts, its not art. I mean I could make these things, leave them raw wood and go to the craft fairs and say “look at what I made, it looks neat.” I could carve a big piece of bacon or something you know, but essentially it would have no meaning, no content, no relevancy to contemporary ideas, it would have nothing that you could gain from it, it wouldn’t teach you anything. Craft in itself, the art of carving duck decoys and such has its own comforting kind of niche, but it really has no significance in regard to teaching people about anything.

Cold Storage (detail),2008. Painted wood. 31 x 42 x 3 inches

What added value do you give a piece of wood?

The way that I change the model, the decisions I make and why. The craft is the model, but it’s a whole other level. Just copying things is a craft, it’s a craft based thing, but at the end of the day it’s just a neat thing you can teach a chimp how to do. In order to command hyper-realism, in order to actually convince people to assume the things that you want to tell them, or to use it as a rhetorical thing, all these things… all objects are words. Each object is a word and how you put an adjective to it or how you add a prefix to it, the adding of tape or dents or trauma or rust or decay. In that respect the object almost becomes irrelevant. Coming back to sculpting a big piece of bacon, that perhaps wouldn’t be as effective as lets say a fender as it would be obvious that it is not bacon where as with a fender there can be no dismissal. It’s like taking a picture of something. You could take a picture of a coconut tree, well that’s a really bad example. Let’s say a car wreck. You can take a picture of a car wreck so that instead of actually being at a car wreck you can experience it. In that way hyper-realism is kind of like a three dimensional camera. You’re taking the object out of its original context and adding it into a whole new context in which it has the potential to become other things.

Why wood?

I don’t have to do it out of wood. I could do it out of clay, but wood carving gets you back to getting the mind to grasp at substance again; it really shocks the brain. To do a wood carving and to leave it as plain wood is a very passive thing. You expect to see wood, you get wood, it’s a one way thing, but when wood is painted your expectations aren’t met so it makes you struggle. It’s like a leap of faith. For one you have to take my word for it because I could be lying; I could take a picture of something and put it on my website and say its wood when its not. I’ve actually done that before but you can’t do that in a real show and I don’t want to lie.

Richard Haden’s garage studio.

Do you think working in three dimensions is more straightforward?

I think that two dimensional paintings or surfaces or images are more prone to spin and agitprop where as an actual object is something that you have to physically deal with, its part of the world, it is its own thing. Sculpture isn’t really something that you can spin, sculpture spins you. It’s not bad that images are more prone to spin, its just that I just find a lot more value in sculpture because I find it to be a lot more honest. Another way to say it is that we view pictures through the eyes of the maker, photographer, painter, drawer, pundit and so on. Many art theorists explain it that way. Sculpture, on the other hand, is not so easily explained because it is a physical thing and it requires us the deal with it through our eyes as a relational thing. If not we are prone to trip over its wealth of essences and its substance. Of course sculpture has the ability to be used as agitprop, but at first it gets in our way. It makes us size up what it is in front of us, behind us or under/over us. We have to re-make it or re-make its ready-made status. We figure out its construction and quantify it phenomenologically. After all is said and done we have to have a relationship with it. Chronologically, however, objects are kind of like a lie: You look at them, they look at you, they make you talk. Especially group of objects together, they start a conversation. A picture is its own conversation, it has its own hermetic feel. Maybe pictures help you think better, but objects help you to deal with the world.

Property is Theft,1993-2007. Pollychromed wood. 22 x 16 x 13 inches. “A BMW K bike appeared in front of my shop. The driver was willing to trade: hot bike for quick cash. I dismantled the German motor cycle in about two hours; gave this and that part away until I was left with the vessel of my desire–The tank. With a seven pound sledge I “beatified” the pristine tank into traumatic submissive form. Chiseling mahogany, I transferred the trace evidence, record of theft into wood. Archiving action and search of SFPD (San Francisco Police department) records, Circa 1992, may produce a dissimilar crime report.”

Does the notion of inventing form appeal to you versus of working directly from a reference object?

Well, then I wouldn’t be able to have the composition of the dents and all that play going on. I mean I can make a refrigerator out of my mind, yes that would be easy, I can make a gas pump out of my mind, there are a lot of things that I could just make up, but then they would not have the compositional value. There is a lot of formal stuff going on in my work to which relies on detail. The mind cannot just make up dents. You can get close and say it would probably dent that way, but it wouldn’t read quite right. Ultimately I am more interested in the simulacrum of the thing. The actual object is reproduced; it has the potency to lose its original meaning like a leopard skin coat. In order for a person to play with those kinds of contexts you have to work in a hyper-realistic way. There are no ideal objects however there are plenty of subjective musings.

Your pieces are extremely labor intensive yet appear as cast off scraps. What is the importance of subtlety in your work?

I hide the labor intensiveness about it. I don’t think that labor being obvious or not makes a piece more or less effective, I just want to avoid the craft. There is something nice about if you think in Mad Max terms, in a post apocalyptic world where there’s no electricity. I will still be able to make my carvings where as a person who does neon lights is going to be shit out of luck[.]


Richard Haden’s work is currently exhibited at Art Basel Miami Beach with Allan Stone Gallery, at SCOPE MIAMI 2008 with Dorsch Gallery, at Aqua with Lincart, and in the exhibition Shapeshifter at Dorsch Gallery which opened November 29th.

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Apologies to both Richard and readers, this post was cut short in the first instance by a server error which has thankfully now been corrected. Regards, Team ARTLURKER.



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Art Basel Miami Beach 2008 Studio Visits: Richard Haden