Joe Haden, metal sculptor, refines and redefines with a delicate touch.
by Annette Palmer, photography by Chris Spicks
(this article was originally featured in The Woodlands City Lifestyle Magazine)
When you meet Joe Haden, you meet a man whose work and artistry are his life, working with the toughest of materials and dangerous tools, fire, metal and sheer grit. He is a tall gent with a beard, clad in his signature uniform of denim overalls and accompanied by his constant companion, Mrs. Jones. If you have ever visited The Houston Art Car Museum or enjoyed The Orange Show annual Art Car Parade, then you will undoubtedly have viewed some of Haden’s fantastical creations. A pioneer of The Art Car Parade, now in its 36th year, he continues to invent creative, humorous designs with incredible artistry. He’s won “Best in Show” 5 times! This is quite a departure from Haden’s initial engineering career; originally employed in the aerospace industry, he designed components for the stealth bomber and then later worked for Bell Helicopter. Embracing his love of design, he began constructing homes. “I saw the homes as individual sculptures” he states, “it awoke my design aesthetic, I would personally design and build the homes”. He would add character by introducing a subtle artistic detail to every project. The struggle between engineering and art is somewhat contradictory, the rigid rules and precision of engineering versus the playfulness, creativity and experimentation of the artistic journey. Eventually focusing full time on his art practice, Haden expresses “It’s always play, if it’s not play, it’s work”
Tools of choice include a plasma cutter, oxygen acetylene torch, and blacksmithing equipment including an anvil, propane, and coal forge. With these heavy-duty means, he can create filigree designs on the most unforgiving, hard materials. Pretty florals and fragile feathers emerge, as intricate shapes are cut and formed from discarded farm equipment, oil cans, shovels, rakes and other metal utilitarian basics. Once again, we see a contradiction in his work, the softness and femininity of the patterns and designs of the lightweight subjects, borne from the hardest, heaviest and strongest elements, The “Paradox of Containment” vessels, include obsolete milk churns and oil cans, with lace like patterns cut into the body of the containers, creating holes in something designed to hold and preserve liquids, transforming these abandoned functional items into fine art pieces with a narrative. The shadows created when light shines through the multiple elegant cutouts are as beautiful as the physical item, with a play on shadows cast, and positive and negative spaces, another paradox.
Haden is inspired by the avant-garde dada art movement of the 1920’s, which explored absurdity and artistic freedom as a reaction to a global situation. As well as an acknowledgment of the upcycling movement and the fulfillment of creating something new from something old. Haden elaborates “The practice of using found objects poses its own set of problems, working around existing design features adds a whole new challenge, and it’s important to work the problem into the beauty of the piece, which ultimately adds to the end result.”
This heavy machinery and force with an almost industrial feel may lead us to think that Haden is a man as tough as steel, but we would be mistaken. Constant companion, Mrs. Jones, his 9lb rescued chihuahua rarely leaves his side and Haden tends to her every need with love and tenderness. He is a master of the Japanese art of reiki, a positive technique that focuses on energy vibrations. His mother, who was an expert in the reiki field, taught him this meditative process that rests the brain and calms our thoughts. He enjoys meditation and other aspects of self-care, believing that ultimately, respect for yourself and others is what makes the world go round. “It’s all about the balance of life, like the balance between engineering and art”, he says. Those that enjoy astrology would also find it interesting to find that Haden is a Libra, the horoscope sign represented by the scales, it’s about finding the equilibrium and seeing the lighter side of the heavier things, just like his art. Haden works from his family ranch in Crockett, Texas, the same ranch that has been in his family since the early 1800’s is a place of peace and inspiration, a tranquil sanctuary. His mother was born here and when she became unwell 15 years ago, Haden went home. The ranch years were a time of immersion, isolation and routine, when he cared for his mother, worked on the ranch, and made art. Literally returning to his roots, he could sense the earth beneath him and experience a connection to the spiritual energy of his ancestors and history, the connection with nature, the constellations, and the universe.
The Houston Art Car Museum, 140 Heights Blvd, Houston, will present “Joe Haden”, a solo exhibition, new sculptures will showcase alongside his inaugural photography collection. The opening reception for this event is between 6 – 9pm, on Saturday, June 17th, the show runs until the end of September.