Sunday, June 10, 2012

Matt Haffner

How long have you been in Atlanta? What brought you here?
I moved to Atlanta in '99 to be close to my son who was 9 at the time. I finished grad school a year earlier and Laura my wife was just finishing up. We then packed up and moved here with out jobs, knowing anyone or having any connections. For me though it was a much higher priority than moving to New York for a possible art career; Family always needs to come first.

Did you go to art school? Do you have any degrees?
I did. It was something that I needed to do, though I don't think it is important for everyone. I went to a big state school with a surprisingly good art program at the University of Akron in Ohio. I did grad school at the Tyler School in Philadelphia. These were 2 very different experiences. The first being very traditional photography education, with black and white documentary work and the other being very conceptual and with a lot of mixed media. 

Tell us how you got your start as a working artist.
I think it came when I moved to Atlanta and showed my portfolio to Kelly at Youngblood and she gave me my fist solo show in Atlanta. This was my first show outside of academia with work that was not guided by anyone. This show, little did I know at the time, launched me into the Atlanta scene very quickly. I was soon after nominated for and won the Forward Arts Foundation grant and show, had another major show at ArtSpot with Ann-Marie Manker, a studio at the contemporary, then a big public project for ACP a solo at MOCA and representation at Whitespace. All beginning with a casual meeting with a emerging art gallery that liked to show graffiti related works. 
What are you working on in your studio now?
I just finished a solo show at my gallery in Philly, Pentimenti and a large installation at the Columbus Museum. I just got the go ahead for a Mural in Virginia Highlands that I'll complete this summer and I'm also working on a large NEA funded installation that will be at Kennesaw State University in the Fall and will coincide with ACP.

What is it like to be an artist in Atlanta today? How can Atlanta improve?
I'm pretty comfortable here. I can do a lot of things on my own terms and I feel like I have a lot of respect for my work here. I also show in a lot of other places around the country, which is important for me. I like being a local artist and being part of the community where I live, but also have an exhibition presence elsewhere. If I were in New York or L.A. it think I might just be blending into the wood work because of the over-saturation of artists in those places. 
What is the role of an artist in society? How do you see your role in this way?
I'm not sure that I see us having to have a responsibility in the community. We create culture and make tastes and sometimes that is enough. I teach, so that is a way that I'm shaping ideas and attitudes about creativity in the world. Some artist need to have their work be political, some religious, some educational. For me, the work is not for the audience first like the ones I mentioned before, but it is for me then for the audience. I can't make work that follows trends. I'm just not wired that way. I can't help what comes out of me, I just have to follow my intuition. 

What is the job of Art?
The academic part of me would say that we create illusions that challenge the conventions of our thinking.  The artist part of me would say it has no job. Art only serves itself and its maker and that "art" should never be capitalized. Ultimately this is an impossible question to answer, there are far to many variables, and I'm most likely to feel different about it with the changing of the days. 
Does Atlanta have a specific role to play for Art/Artists?
Atlanta is a place that artists can do a lot and have a considerable amount of freedom.  What it's role is is a weird thing to think about. As an artist you can't rely on a place to do something for you. You have to make things happen for yourself. That being said, every city has a responsibility to its citizens to give them a rich cultural experience along with suitable living conditions and opportunities to grow. This happens in so many ways in so many different levels, from the emerging artist and underground art shows to the white cube of the museum, from coffee houses to contemporary art galleries, from backyards to public parks, culture is a hard thing to stop, even if there is not much public financial support. People will always create. 

Do you have any advice for younger artists?
If you are not loving what you do, get out and find what you love. If you are following trends or making work for someone else, get out. If you feel like what you are doing is a constant struggle and that it is difficult but rewarding, you are probably on the right path. If you are doing what you love, don't ever stop, no matter what others tell you, no matter if you are selling work or not, no matter if you are getting the representation or attention you think you deserve. Do it to satisfy yourself and no one else, exhibitions, sales, press are all just icing. 
Talking with Michi Meko last year, he compared making art to that of being a soul-surfer. It's only about the next great wave.