Interview w/ New York Artist, Greg Haberny
22 Jul, 2012
As an artist who “colors outside the lines,” New York-based artist, Greg Haberny, refuses to be defined by an exclusive style, trend or movement. Instead, he aims to be true to himself, attempting to be defined by nothing and to defy everything. An internationally acclaimed artist, Haberny, equipped with a background in filmmaking, designs his installations much like a filmmaker would design a movie set. Incorporating music and in some cases performers, his goal is to totally transform the gallery into an environment that is a completely different experience involving sight and sound. Haberny, fresh off of a trip to Berlin in which he showed work at Strychnine Gallery, was spotlighted in a television story by Reuter’s Press, and is a featured artist at Carly Ivan Garcia’s RAW Art Gallery Exhibit on May 6th, 2011.
Dig In Magazine: Where are you from and where are you based out of currently?
Greg Haberny: I am originally from Connecticut and I am currently based out of New York City.
DIM: Did you grow up around a lot of artists?
GH: Yes, I did. My dad was kind of an old school folk artist. He was a big furniture maker and worked with a lot of mediums. He did a lot of collaging and worked with a great deal of distressing. He had a very old school style. And my grandmother was a painter, so my roots are quite grounded in art. But I also come from a family of extremely hard working people, who build and design, and know how to get things done no matter how difficult the task. And I have a profound respect for that.
DIM: How did you first get into art?
GH: Like most people, you draw in your childhood to express yourself. But, for me it was a little more than expression. It was a satisfying escape from reality. When I was a bit older I was working on movie sets as an actor and was always drawing. I realized that I was always so much happier with a paint brush in my hand or a pencil and I quit acting. I embraced art as something that I had to do… Slowly art became more of a full-time gig… and I started doing installations on the street. It kind of just escalated into what it is now by some incredible hard work and unbelievable sacrifice and determination.
DIM: What is your artistic training (formal or informal)?
GH: Formal and informal. I am a mixture of both, if you don’t mind me saying. I studied photography and filmmaking, and a little bit of painting. So artistically speaking…I have a trained eye on the definition of what one would believe is art. But on the other level of a fine art diploma from an institution, I’m completely untrained, raw, and wild…I’m a graduate of the undisciplined school…I love to color outside the lines.
DIM: How do you use your art as a form of personal expression?
GH: My work is an extremely strong form of my personal expression. I work in different styles and mediums. I cross the line with different or forgotten forms of creativity. I like to mix and match things that are just not traditionally mixed or matched. It kind of parlays into my personality, completely unpredictable. My art is quite bi-polar…like me. [Laughs]
DIM: What in life inspires you to create art?
GH: I have an unbelievably active imagination that never rests and I’m incredibly prolific, but most importantly I love what I do. So that really helps. But my inspiration comes in different forms. I love bookstores with tons of history, pop culture, and art books. I’d also say old films, vintage comics, advertisements, and reading the daily newspaper and realizing just how absurd everything is.
DIM: How would you describe your artistic style?
GH: Completely loose and out of control. [Laughs] I work with any and all forms of artistic medium. I am an installation artist you know? I look at doing installations as a child looks at doing a puzzle…and there are many pieces that need to be assembled until the puzzle is complete. However, I try to consider myself a very different facet of what individuals are traditionally taught in art school, which is be defined by an exclusive style or stick with a trend/movement. To be true to myself, I attempt to be defined by nothing and to defy everything.
DIM: What artists have inspired your artistic style?
GH: Oh boy…Well, I have a really deep appreciation for the COBRA artists. Their work was groundbreaking; they based creativity on the artwork of mental patients and children in the late forties and early fifties. The Southern Folk Art Movement – Thornton Dial, Henry Darger, Bill Traylor, Jimmy Lee Suddah, potter George Ohr. The Abstract Expressionists – Williem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Conceptual art of the sixties, Graffiti Art, Pop Art, I love Peter Saul…Cy Twombly and Rauschenberg, Sarah Lucas and Tracy Emin, Larry Clark, Terry Richardson…Man…So many, I could go on forever.
DIM: What is your favorite artistic medium?
GH: I like to work with everything… Screws, nails, wire, tons of glues and epoxies, glass, shredded plastic, firearms, spray paint, oils, watercolors, enamel car paints, acrylics, and truck loads of dirt…Just about anything that I can get my hands on.
DIM: How large are your installations?
GH: It really is determined by the size of the gallery. The goal is to totally transform the gallery into an environment that is a completely different experience involving sight and sound.
DIM: What does your Fountain Miami 2010 installation “The Pornography of America” symbolize and what pieces did this art installation consist of?
GH: When people hear pornography they automatically think of sex, which is really not the dictionaries definition. Pornography can be anything that stimulates the senses. The installation was slick, glossy, eye candy and in that context its almost the same way “Porn” is packaged. I think I’m contradicting myself…But it was like placing sweet icing over some real ugly topics that generally are used as a form of stimulation.
DIM: What messages are you trying to convey to those observing and interpreting this installation?
GH: I think a simple metaphor that is consistent in ALL my work is that society is broken and it probably won’t be fixed anytime soon. But in general…Our vices are our demise. [Laughs]
DIM: Your installation “24 Hours in Hell” with Lyons Wier Gallery at the Toronto Art Fair in 2010 seems to have a great deal of political overtones, can you explain the political ideas that are conveyed here?
GH: I created this hokie 10-foot wooden white devil out of plywood. I then scrawled “POLITICS” across the chest of the beast. It was a creature that I envisioned a child would think up. Big, clunky, crooked, and ridiculous…I then shot it with about fifty arrows…It was a metaphor for trying to slaughter the beast that terrorizes us all.
DIM: What did your “Define Nothing and Defy Everything” show at Christina Ray Gallery in New York last year consist of?
GH: I think as artists we get pigeon holed into actually having to define all of our work by a style. For example…I listen to a Led Zeppelin album and I hear blues, hard rock, and experimentation, but it’s still Led Zeppelin. If musicians can work in different styles and still be considered real musicians…Why can’t painters?
But for the specific show that you mentioned, my idea was a bit more rebellious. My overall objective for that presentation was to put some eyebrow raising work out there and give little to no explanation for my actions. [Laughing] It was somewhat self explanatory by having a four foot gold sculpture of a boy scout giving the middle finger…instead of the trusty traditional three-finger salute they generally give.
DIM: What artwork did you display at Fountain New York 2011 in March of this year?
GH: The show’s title was “Up Your Ass.” [Laughing] I did a traditional installation with the centerpiece being a gorilla squatting over a gold toilet with an American flag coming out of his ass like a big doodie. I do not regard the American flag as an American flag if it is produced on cheap polyester in China or India or in any other foreign vicinity. A flag is only honorable in my opinion if a flag is produced by the country’s workers and produced on that country’s soil. The consistent outsourcing of goods… Is really bad…but the outsourcing of your nation’s colors is a crime…What’s next?…Money…Oh I forgot…That’s already being covered too.
DIM: What other galleries or exhibitions have you participated in?
GH: Well, I’m US based, but I’m fortunate. I work with P.O.W. in London and several other galleries in Europe…I’m slowly becoming a worldwide cancer. [Laughs]
DIM: Where else will you show nationally and internationally in the future?
GH: Reuter’s Press just did a television story on me. So I’m hoping this will transpire another wave of interest from other galleries in various countries. But for now, I’m in Strychnine Gallery and UF6 projects in Berlin. I am doing art Cologne in October in a section called “Bloom.” It is an emerging artist Fair and I’m honored to be doing a solo installation there. Then perhaps London, and then back to New York for a solo at Lyons Weir Gallery, and then back to Germany yet again, then perhaps Switzerland for Art Basel.
DIM: What auctions have you participated in and is your work a part of many private and public collections?
GH: I’ve been in four Phillips de Pury auctions and I’ve done extremely well in them and my prices continue to rise… I am very grateful to be regarded as an investment…I like that. It adds a touch of validity to what I’m doing. I’m also very fortunate to be in some really great collections and some truly wonderful institutions. I hope to continue in the future to be purchased and respected in the art industry.
DIM: How does filmmaking inspire your artwork and installations?
GH: Film is a major inspiration. I feel what I do is very much like filmmaking. I create a setting or environment with a storyboard almost in the same way you would for a movie. I also add a sound track and in some cases performers. So, a lot of what I do is extremely theatrical…or should I say circus like.
DIM: How do you use cultural iconography in your artwork?
GH: I’m a pretty big history buff and I like to add my own warped twist on “factual history.” I’m still convinced Joe Dimaggio assassinated Kennedy, because Jack was playing around with Marlyn on the side.
DIM: Can you explain your use of vintage comics, pin-up girls of yesteryear and baby boomer advertising, which aid you in conveying the controversial messages within your artwork?
GH: I used to do a lot of TV commercials as an actor and one of the things that I picked up on is that the advertising agencies are masters at manipulating. They are gifted at making people believe in things that are just not true. In a warped way I’ve kind of adapted their strategy by taking concepts and adding a comedic and insightful analysis into a broad range of topics that most people can relate to. Just google up “Cash for Gold Greg Haberny”…You’ll get a pretty good idea as to what I’m saying. [Laughs]
DIM: What is upcoming for you? What are your future goals or plans?
GH: Up coming for me????? Uh…An enormous amount work [laughs] and that’s a great thing… but my future plans are to continue to keep showing and to hopefully evolve and mature, not only as an artist, but as an individual. I want to keep bringing different views and concepts to the public. I’d also like to make an attempt at not excluding anyone and to reach out across the borders to the non-art crowd and perhaps develop a bond with individuals that states you don’t even have to like art to enjoy what I’m doing.