Saturday, August 18, 2012

Concrete Block: an autobiography

I taught myself to paint while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa. Since my first painting was a portrait of a student (I was a science teacher,)  I was imprinted on portraiture. Throughout my art career, it's always been my first love. For a decade, I traveled the world and did character studies of indigenous people: 
Morning in Samoa   by Nolan Haan     24 x 36 inches   oil on canvas

When I returned to the United States, I became a wildlife artist and specialized in portraits of birds:
Nolan Haan     Peacock   oil on panel     40 x 60 inches
When I finally dedicated myself to contemporary art and began doing paintings of concrete block walls, it was inevitable that I would eventually paint portraits of cement blocks.

What?

When asked at cocktail parties what I do, my answer is "I paint portraits of concrete blocks." As you can imagine, this is usually met with a glassy stare and a hasty retreat. I draw strength knowing that Andy Warhol once had to say, "I do paintings of Campbell's  soup cans." And we all know how that turned out. On occasion, however, someone will ask the logical next question, "Why?"

It took me a long time to answer that question, to realize that these concrete blocks were actually portraits of myself. I never painted a traditional self-portrait, always reluctant to reveal so much about myself. Subconsciously, I was using concrete as a diary. One by one,  the cement blocks were documenting my emotions, my states of mind--my life. My concrete alter ego is less self-conscious, so honesty comes more easily. A life story told in the language of cement...
Close to Silence     acrylic on silk, mounted on hardboard    70 x 40 inches
This series showcases the sculptural integrity of individual blocks, often rendered larger-than-life. The process begins with two questions: "What do I wish to convey about myself?" followed by, "How can concrete block convey this emotion?"

Since they look so 3-D, most viewers go first to the technical aspect of the work. My hope is that the content will also be explored. I want viewers to see something of themselves reflected back.

Nolan Haan in his studio, holding Close to Silence
When asked for a picture of myself in my studio for a forthcoming book, TENWORDSANDONESHOT, this was my submission. (The painting is ready to be mounted on a piece of hardboard cut to the exact shape of the block.) It was a relief to have the concrete block speak on my behalf.

Thank you for taking the time to read by blog. Please bookmark this page so you can find me again. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to post here or email me at nolanhaan@att.net. Also, my website is awaiting your visit at www.AddictedToWalls.com. Take care, and have a productive week.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A flock of Concrete Blocks

My faithful blog readers deserve to be way ahead of the curve in regards to the twists and turns of my artistic output. As promised when I started this blog, I want to share with you any new directions that I am considering. This is a risk for an artist, because once a series of paintings is proposed, it is at the mercy of people’s opinions, both positive and negative. Every comment that an artist hears about a work in progress has the power to affect the artwork. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I will take that risk. So, in the foreseeable future, my next major series will be (insert drum roll): A Flock of Concrete Blocks.
What you see above is a "sketch" of the concept, which is how I always start my paintings. I will do many of these before I choose my first flock. A simple line drawing is all I need. The textures will be added as I actually paint the cement blocks on my silk.  The painting will be mounted on a shaped panel. This is an example of a finished painting:
DNA   acrylic on silk, mounted on shaped panel   48 x 70 inches

For now, I am playing with design and relationships. In this series, I obviously removed the constraints of gravity. My concrete blocks will tumble and float and intermingle across the expanse of a large wall. The scale of each will be much larger than life. They will appear light and feel heavy at the same time. Each block will be a separate painting, and then hung on the venue wall to form the flock. As usual, each painting will be shaped like the concrete block itself. If two or more blocks overlap, they will be done as one painting.

This series presents many challenges, but I am extremely excited to give it a try. It will take many months to complete, and you will be with me at each stage.  Oh, and if you know anyone with a large, vacant wall, please let me know.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. If you are a fan of cement, I invite you to visit my website: AddictedToWalls.com. I would love to hear from you, so please don't be shy and leave a comment. Take care, and watch out for those flocks of cinder blocks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nolan Haan: "Naked"

I won't ask for a show of hands, but I'm sure many of you have asked yourselves, "What does a concrete block look like completely nude?" My latest painting, "Naked," resolves that burning question. Enjoy.

Unadorned. Unapologetic. Fully exposed with all its faults, yet proudly displaying its sculptural beauty. No smooth skim coat. No fancy stucco finish.  Its beauty lies in its imperfections--a lesson, perhaps.

The painting is quite large, 72 x 36 inches, and is painted in acrylic on silk, then mounted on hardboard cut to the shape of the concrete block. It's a trompe l'oeil (fool-the-eye) painting, completely flat. The center holes are cut out, so you see the venue wall through them. The artwork is mounted two inches from the wall, casting beautiful shadows.

My cement block grew from humble beginnings:

As usual, the first step is to block in the shapes, using gesso of various shades. No detail at this stage, only basic shadows and solid planes of color. The hardboard upon which the painting will be affixed is cut later using a common jigsaw. For now, I must paint the image slightly larger, allowing for the wrapping around the edges of the hardboard. 

I am adding the final details and getting excited about the grand unveiling (my current and former tenants can attest to how exciting that is!) My studio is a 400 sq. foot room in my historic apartment building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Each month I hang my most recent painting in the public hallway, under perfect lighting of course! If you're ever in South Florida, please stop by.

UPDATE: "Naked" had its world unveiling at the Boca Raton Museum of Art's "All Florida" exhibition, curated by Valerie Leeds (Flint Institute of Art.) Please see the following post with pictures from the event.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my art blog. Please bookmark this page so you can read the new entry each Sunday. If you have any questions, please ask, and don't forget to check out my website: AddictedToWalls.com. Take care and have a good week.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Tomato Ladies

My art career was not destined to take the normal trajectory. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree, I spent several years in the Peace Corps, teaching science in Western Samoa. During this time, I taught myself to paint, using the local people as my models. With no formal art training, I was forced to experiment with techniques. Painting in oils came easily to me, and I was particularly drawn to character studies of the elders of the village.

Old Lady Smoking   oil on canvas  30 x 36"
My love for adventure took me to Iran, where I taught science at an international school. Within a year, however, I was bicycling through the rice paddies of central Java, Indonesia, with my sister, looking for a place to build our Bamboo Dream House.

My sister had recently graduated from college and wanted to join me on my world travels. We chose Indonesia because we could afford the $2.50/week lifestyle. We rented a deserted rice paddy (for $1/month) and proceeded to build our house out of bamboo purchased in the local village. Since we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, the locals had a new source of entertainment. In spite of our lack of construction skills, a forest of bamboo finally became our home.

The lack of electricity and running water seemed like minor inconveniences.  We collected rain water from the roof into barrels and worked at night with kerosene lanterns.  In a mosquito netted area, I set up my easel and began to paint.


Every week we shopped in the local market for our produce, and one old woman always greeted us kindly and gave us a good price for her tomatoes. We called her The Tomato Lady. I knew immediately I wanted to paint her portrait, to which she reluctantly agreed. This painting remains one of my favorites and evokes fond memories of my three years spent in Indonesia.

The Tomato Lady     oil on linen     16 x 20 inches



Flash forward thirty-five years, and I am now living in South Florida. My portraits of people have evolved into portraits of concrete blocks, but the Tomato Lady still spoke to me. I decided to update her in my new style by painting her on a fool-the-eye shard of cement. 
The Tomato Lady     acrylic on silk, mounted on hardboard    60 x 40 inches    2010
Well, that is the saga of my tomato ladies. Thank you for reading my blog. Please bookmark this page so you can find it again. I post every Sunday, so please tell your friends. If you have any questions or comments, I'd be happy to hear from you. Also, if you haven't checked out my website, here is the link: AddictedToWalls.com.  Take care and have a good week.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Secrets Revealed: How to paint like me

Often I have been asked how artists get their ideas and inspirations. Most artists would agree that a concept can come from almost anywhere: a comment overheard on the subway, a line of text in a blog, a picture or painting one sees by chance. The photo of the painting "Raft of the Medusa" by Gericault was given to me by an artist friend, Dee Connors. I was overwhelmed by the image, and knew instantly I wanted to do a painting based on it. My blog today will show you the various stages the painting went through.

Gericault    Raft of the Medusa

If you look closely at Gericault's painting, you can see the face I chose to paint in the lower middle/left. I enlarged it as much as I could in Photoshop, but the working photo was quite pixilated, so I probably didn't get too close to the original. This is fine, because I wanted to make it my own anyway.


The first step is to block in the figure and shape of the concrete blocks, using thin acrylic paint in a watercolor consistency. All the major decisions as to placement are made in this stage. It is important for the mortar lines not to interfere with an important features of the man's face. Using light umber and yellow ocher, I indicate the highlights and shadows. I am not concerned with details yet. The painting is 40 x 40 inches and is painted on silk charmeuse.


Confident that everything is where it's supposed to be, I begin to refine the details with thin layers of paint. I am now sculpting the lips, nose, chin, eyes, and of course the cement block. Both the skin texture and cement texture must be done concurrently. There is always a push and pull to keep the balance equal.


 I begin to introduce colors like burnt sienna, which will glow through the subsequent layers of paint. I delineated the eyes for proper shape and placement. To add interest in the concrete block texture, I introduce a bit of stucco in the lower portion of the painting. I have to commit to this from the first layer, or it'll give me problems later.

 By now I'm feeling good about the piece.  All the problems have been worked out (one trick is to look at the painting in a mirror. The reversed image shows any flaw in the design.) Each layer of paint adds richness, and as the shadows deepen (to both the figure and the concrete block), the textures become accentuated and the drama reveals itself. The drudgery is over and the fun begins.

Voila! The grand unveiling. And then the doubts begin. Did I go too far? (One of the hardest aspects of painting is knowing when to stop!) Did I lose too much of the concrete block? Did it get too dark? There is always a moment when the painting looks good, but you think that with one more push, it can be great. "Do I risk everything and take it one more step?" Every artist has to struggle with that question. Sometimes you lose a piece because it went too far. But it is very important to be willing to take that risk.

Well, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you have any questions, please ask. I'll try to post something new each Sunday, so please come back to visit. Hope you have a productive week.

To see more paintings of concrete block walls, please visit my website: www.AddictedToWalls.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Urban Cave Paintings

My transition from wildlife art into contemporary art was a series entitled "Urban Cave Paintings." I combined my love of wildlife, my fascination with prehistoric cave paintings, and my new passion for concrete blocks. This series answered the question, "What if you bought a house and went into the basement, only to discover a cache of ancient cave paintings?"

Urban Cave Painting: Wounded Stag (Lascaux)     acrylic on silk    60 x 40 inches

In 1991, this painting was shown in the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum's "Wildlife: an Artist's Perspective" and was chosen for their world tour. It was the first time one of my cinder block paintings was exhibited, so it was a proud moment for me. In the catalog, the reviewer wrote:

“...Another unusual work is “Urban Cave Painting:  Wounded Stag” by Nolan Haan.  The only wildlife in sight is a crudely rendered prehistoric antelope on a cinder block wall.  All of this is rendered in acrylic on silk in perfect illusionistic detail.  It is one of the few works in the show with depth of content.”  
                                                       —Ron Netsky, Professor of Art, Nazareth College

This is how the painting looks draped, prior to stretching on stretcher bars. I decided to base this series on famous cave paintings from around the world, often taking artist liberties with the color and design. The next painting featured the swimming deer, also from Lascaux.

Urban Cave Painting: Swimming Deer    acrylic on silk    40 x 60 inches
Urban Cave Painting: Elk and Horses     acrylic on silk    40 x 60 inches
I took some liberties with Elk and Horses. After studying the typical stylistic proportions the ancients used, such as small heads, distended bellies, and tiny, thin legs, I created my own horses. Apologies to Lascaux for presuming to improve and their design.

Urban Cave Painting: Falling Cow (Lascaux)     acrylic on silk     40 x 60 inches


Urban Cave Painting: the Hunters     acrylic on silk     36 x 72 inches (diptych)

The Hunters is based on cave art found in Africa. I found the depictions of humans (rare in Europe) to be very contemporary in design.

Urban Cave Painting: Spot lit Bull     acrylic on silk     40 x 60 inches
I conclude my blog today with one of my favorites: the Spot lit Bull. I hope you have enjoyed exploring my urban caves. Please bookmark this page so you can find me again and please come back often. I'd love to hear from you with any questions or comments, and don't forget to visit my website: AddictedToWalls.com. Take care and have a good week.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Progress Report: A Flock of Concrete Blocks/Discrimination

My first Flock of Concrete Blocks is comprised of ten individual paintings that will comment on the various ways we discriminate against the physically handicapped. The paintings are in acrylic on silk, mounted on shaped panels. Three paintings are now completed.
Physically Handicapped      acrylic on silk, mounted on shaped panel     28 x 32 inches
This is the star of the series. Each painting floats two inches from the wall, so shadows of the cement blocks will be cast on the venue wall, adding another level of interest.

Avoidance     acrylic on silk, mounted on shaped panel     52 x 34 inches
When confronted with a physically handicapped person, we are sometimes guilty of avoidance. One of my best friends is wheelchair bound. I love spending time with him, but everything is a bit more complicated. If we go to an art show or the supermarket, he has to be helped into the car, and then the wheel chair has to be stowed in the trunk. My house has eight front steps, so if I invite him for dinner, there is the issue of getting him into the house. Nothing major, just an extra effort. Sometimes that small effort is enough for me to refrain from inviting my friend to a function. Avoidance.

Repulsion     acrylic on silk, mounted on shaped panel     50 x 32 inches

Sometimes the physical deformity is so great that our immediate response is repulsion. Just as we are genetically predisposed to respond positively to beauty within our own species, deviation of the norm can elicit repugnance. Once I was eating in a restaurant when a severely handicapped person was seated at a table across from me. I am ashamed to say that I literally lost my appetite. Intellectually I told myself that he was a person just like me, but physically I could not eat. My compassion could not override my repulsion. 

Below is my working sketch for this series of paintings, showing the scale with the silhouette of the man. I substituted the three concrete block sketches on the right with the first three paintings.
 Sketch for A Flock of Concrete Blocks: Discrimination     showing progress
Thank you for following my progress on this new series. I appreciate your support of my blog, and I encourage you to post comments. If you have experienced discrimination, I'd like to hear from you. Perhaps your story will become part of a series. Please visit my website at www.AddictedToWalls.com. Take care and have a prejudice-free week.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Physically Impaired

 How do you respond when you encounter a person who suffers from a physical deformity? My first "flock of cinder blocks" will explore my personal reactions--none of which I am proud of. As I work on this series of ten paintings, I will study the psychology of discrimination and share these findings with you. My original, "uneducated" design is shown in the blog entry below. After much soul searching, I determined that, depending on the severity of the deformity, I respond in one of three distinct ways: repulsion (avoidance), indifference (usually feigned,) and curiosity. My cinder block alter egos represent these reactions to the physically impaired. I completed the star of the series today. One of the perks of reading my blog is being among the first in the world to see my new artwork.

Warning: the painting below is not for the faint of heart and may be disturbing to some viewers. It is recommended for mature audiences.

The Physically Impaired     acrylic on silk, mounted on shaped panel   28 x 38 inches   Nolan Haan 
Obviously, seeing a physically challenged cinder block is much easier to bear than if it were a human being depicted. This is precisely why I work with cement blocks. Viewers are less shocked and will spend more time exploring delicate subject matter if not confronted with the human form. A person missing a third of his body would be uncomfortable to look at for most audiences. Our degree of empathy is less powerful when the subject is cement.

Note: to see this painting in progress, please scroll down and read earlier posts.

My blog next week will feature the first of the cinder block reactions to the unfortunate one shown above. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and please leave a comment if you feel inclined. As usual, I ask that you bookmark this page and share with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. This week I revamped my website: AddictedToWalls.com, so please visit. Take care and have a prejudice-free week.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Concrete Flock: Discrimination

As I embark on my new series entitled "Flocks of Concrete Blocks," I will take you on as step by step tour of the entire process. For my first flock, I chose discrimination of the physically impaired as the subject.

When I come upon a person who is physically challenged, I react in specific ways. Depending on the severity of the deformity, I tend to respond with avoidance, indifference, or curiosity. I am ashamed of these reactions, but I believe they are typical human responses. To illustrate this concept, I drew a prototype with a free program, Google Sketchup.

Sketch for "Confronting the Physically Impaired" by Nolan Haan  7 x 32 feet 
The scale is for a 32 linear foot wall, which I consider an average size installation. Each of the cement blocks will be a highly realistic trompe l'oeil painting in acrylic on silk. Each will be painted separately and mounted on a shaped panel using acid free adhesive. It is time to begin the painting...

My working sketch for the physically challenged concrete block is:
The first step is to cut and wash the silk, using cold water and a gentle shampoo. This pre-shrinks the fabric, so it won't respond to the water based acrylic paint and gesso that is later applied. The silk is air dried and then ironed:

Contemporary artist Nolan Haan preparing silk charmeuse for painting
Silk charmeuse is difficult to work with, but because it has little texture, it does not compromise the effect of cement that I strive for. To keep it square, I tape the edges with masking tape.


The shape of the concrete block is carefully sketched on the silk. The basic planes are blocked in using Golden Gesso. I buy black and white gesso to make various shades of gray.


I do not worry about details at this stage. I want a layer of gesso on the entire surface, and I want to be sure the shapes are all correct.


The gesso layer is complete.
In next week's post, I will show the layering in of the concrete block texture. As usual, I appreciate your time spent reading my blog. Please bookmark the page and share it with your friends. To see more of my artwork, please visit my website: AddictedToWalls. This week I was profiled in the Cultural Quarterly-- you don't miss that riveting read! Questions and comments are most welcome, so don't be shy. Take care, and I'll see you next week.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Boca Raton Museum of Art's "60th Annual All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition"

The annual show at the Boca Raton Museum of Art  is always my most anticipated event, if I'm fortunate enough to be chosen. This year's curator was Dr. Valerie Leeds of the Flint Institute of Art, who culled through 1800 submissions to choose 101 for the show. My painting, Naked, which was discussed in an earlier blog, made its public debut.

Nolan Haan                                Naked                                   Mitchell Lambert
What artists appreciate most about this show is that each painting is hung and lit perfectly. The curators carefully transition from one painting to the next, cognizant of how the artwork relates visually to its neighbors. The opening reception was well attended, and the concrete block name tags worn by my friends (as seen in photo above) made quite the impression. Branding efforts were in high gear!
"All Florida Exhibition" at the Boca Raton Museum of Art
Although I did not win an award, my friend Virginia Fifield won the prestigious merit award for her stunning charcoal entitled "Contemplations of Life, Death, and Beauty." Congratulations Virginia.

This concludes my blog for this Sunday. Thank you for taking the time to visit, and please come back often. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear from you. To see more images of my artwork, please visit AddictedToWalls.com. Take care, and have an eventful week.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Flock of Concrete Blocks: the mission statement develops...

As many of you know, I have been painting individual cement blocks as separate entities. Each painting stood on its own as one in a series. Recently, however, I’ve wanted them to begin interacting with one another. I designed a few “couples” to see if an attitude or mood could be achieved. Sure enough, as the blocks began to relate to one another, they became more animate.  When I introduced a third character, the dynamic increased, just as it would with humans. The obvious evolution was to larger groups of cement blocks, which I call my “flocks.”
 

The term “flock” connotes a number of entities acting as a cohesive group, with inherent social characteristics. Because flocks of birds or sheep share similar characteristics with human crowds, the concrete block flocks can be a metaphor for the human condition.

Each flock will have its own dynamic. They can feel exuberant, threatening, organized, chaotic, foreboding, or optimistic. They can be site specific, designed to fit a particular venue space. The light source will be the same for all the flocks, so there is a potential for two or more flocks to intermingle or to confront one another.

In my mind's eye, I can see a wide expanse of wall strewn with large-scale cement blocks tumbling, floating, and soaring across the surface. This concept, though embryonic, is extremely exciting to me. I feel strongly that it will be the direction of my artwork for years to come. 

The drawing above is simply a sketch. The final result will be highly realistic concrete blocks painted in acrylic on silk. Each of the individual blocks will be a separate painting and rendered larger than life. Now the real work begins. It's new territory for me, which is at once exhilarating and scary. In future posts, I will share with my legions of faithful readers the blow by blow development of my first flock. Please come back often, and know how much I appreciate each and every page-view. Google is starting to find me, and it is thanks to readers like you. Take care and have a super week.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

OK, I'm bragging...the Frost Art Museum

One of the proudest moments of my art career will take place on Wednesday, May 25 at the Frost Art Museum. As a recipient of the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship, four of my concrete block paintings will be on display until August 25, 2011. This is an amazing venue, and I am totally excited.

The Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum
The assistant curator, Klaudio Rodriquez, visited my studio last month to choose works for this show. I had never had a museum curator come to my work space, and this is one of the best perks of the fellowship. We started with a cup of coffee and a tour of my house, which I billed as one of my "art installations." Every room has some artistic element, and with his architectural background, Klaudio seemed to enjoy the tour. Several concrete block paintings are hung in my house, so it was a good segue to my studio, located in a historic apartment building across the street.

I had hung a dozen paintings in the open hallways, perfectly lit of course. As he walked slowly, pausing at each painting, he said things like, "So this is silk, too? I could swear it was cement." High praise, indeed. Klaudio was intrigued with the surfaces, but he did not want me to reveal my techniques. His only concern was the end result, not the process to get there. His favorite piece was "DNA" because of its minimal, tactile qualities. He said he could picture it hung in a high-end office, lobby, or home. His validation of my work was important, because sometimes I get insecure and think my aesthetic is too specific.

The Choice     acrylic on silk, mounted on hardboard   48 x 96 inches
One of the works selected was "The Choice," which is a good example of my fool-the-eye concreter block series. The painting is completely flat. It is mounted on a piece of hardboard that is cut to shape with a jig saw. The highlights and shadows contribute to the trompe l'oeil effect. Klaudio thought the message was relevant.

Klaudio gave me two hours of his time, which I treasure. To see my work hanging beside the other winners of this prestigious fellowship is an honor. The show will be fantastic, so I encourage all of you to come to the FREE reception on Wednesday, May 25, from 6 to 9 P.M. I have attached directions below.

As usual, I thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Please bookmark the page and send to all your friends. My website is AddictedToWalls.com. Please stop by. Until next week, I bid you adieu.

Driving Directions
From East (Miami Beach, Miami International Airport, Downtown Miami)
Take 836 WEST (Accessible from I-95). Exit on NW 107th Avenue SOUTH. Continue South on 107th, past SW 8th Street. Turn right onto FIU campus at SW 16th Street. Continue straight through circle and park in Blue Garage on left.

From North (Broward and North Dade)
Follow the Florida Turnpike to exit #25 (SW 8th Street EAST). Follow SW 8th Street East to SW 107th Avenue. Turn right on SW 107th Avenue. Turn right onto FIU campus at SW 16th Street. Continue straight through circle and park in Blue Garage on left.

From West and South (Homestead and South Dade)
Take 826 North and Exit on Coral Way. Proceed West (left) to SW 107th Avenue and turn right. Turn left at SW 16th Street onto FIU campus. Continue straight through circle and park in Blue Garage on left.

From Downtown Coral Gables
Take Coral Way West to SW 107th Avenue. Turn right onto SW 107th Avenue. Turn left onto FIU campus at SW 16th Street. Continue straight through circle and park in Blue Garage on left.