Lifestyle: Artists

Freedom Of Expression

John Haubrich: From Photorealism to Abstraction
By Sophie Overton - November 10, 2017

Some people are fortunate to know their life’s calling from early on. From age three onwards John Haurbrich’s parents set him up with a table and chair in the kitchen where the fledgling artist “drew all day long.”

“That was pretty wonderful,” he says. “They really encouraged it.” But, like many artists, he chose an income-producing career first and his art second.

After attending school in studio arts for two years in his home state of Minnesota, a friend who was a creative director, talked him into going into advertising, a move that led to graphic design and corporate identity. (He is currently the art director at Fordham University.) While that paid the bills, he continually put his own work out there in restaurants and the like. His luck turned when he showed in one eatery where “all the gallery owners went for lunch.” He was officially “discovered.”

But let’s face it, being discovered in Minneapolis is not like being recognized in New York City, which is where the artist turned up in the 1980s. “Back then you could walk around to galleries,” he says. “It’s much tougher now – so market driven.”

His Chelsea pavement-pounding paid off. He found representation with Stricoff Fine Art for six years. Looking at his abstract work now you would never suspect that Haubrich began as a photorealist. At Stricoff his content was urban inspired: “architectural, Richard Estes sort of.” But there was always a nostalgic flavor infusing it. His subjects included “older buildings with current cars, diners, movie theaters, iconic New York places like Village Cigars.”

After discovering the Hamptons in the ‘90s, he was shown at Chrysalis Gallery in Southampton where his photorealism changed to reflect his East End surroundings. He made beautiful canvases of landscapes, skies and rural themes “indicative of this part of the country.”

After a fortuitous accident, he started experimenting with work he describes as a “transfer type process,” wherein he transfers ink-based type, mostly from the New York Times, onto surfaces. The discovery came as he was glazing a painting with a polymer emulsion when a sheet from a New York Times magazine accidentally crept into the mix and – Voila! – its ink transferred to the emulsion. A eureka moment.

He found the abstract process “freeing and experimental, a break from realism’s linear focus.” I find it really kind of sexy – when you take paper off and discover where the ink is and where it isn’t.” He also appreciates how a two-dimensional surface can “draw people in” by layering materials and techniques such as paint, pencil, crayon, varnish, brush strokes, drips, and scratching to create depth.

If air bubbles or ripples develop or a piece of a page gets stuck, all the better. Soon he incorporated images from his own camera “to marry” his abstraction to his realism, but making the images as “unrecognizable as possible.”

He began with earth tones but then, influenced by “the natural world and its cycles, evolved into a more colorful palette,” he says. “I really like bright colors like acidy green and turquoise.” Those are hues found in an abstract work he made on top of realistic painting of poppies, whose bright orange essence shines through. “You can see flowers in there, but they’re not the focus of the piece. Exploring with color and breaking up form is a lot of what is being done in contemporary paining today. I love it, it’s so much fun.”

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