Bill Haveron

posAbout this artist

Essay by Susie Kalil

For Bill Haveron, even more than most artists, drawing is the soil out of which his thinking grows—the very core of his style. And Haveron's line—there's nothing quite like it, which is why viewers see all things in it. The strokes tower, bevel, loop and dart. The sureness of his hand is almost infallible. The contours crackle and splinter; the color bleeds, just as his images shift, fuse and transmute. The highly-charged velocity, set down at collision speed, endows Haveron's people, vegetation, animals and hybrid creatures with smoldering intensity that is pronounced, arresting and inescapable. Throughout, Haveron's line is coextensive with image. It does not describe it; rather, it embodies it.

For decades, Haveron's art has been influenced by experiences as a youth at his mother's honky-tonk bar and spooky agrarian upbringing in Bryan, Texas. The darkly enchanting narratives at KHFA describe a vision as generous as it is wounded. Life can be genuinely gruesome, and civilization is but an easily flayed veneer. About this, Haveron makes no bones. Yet he delivers the storylines with an undeniable delicacy and self-effacing humor that curdle into some kind of gut clutching optimism. These images can make you chuckle or wince in less time than it takes to read a cut-line. I'm sure many viewers either closely examine Haveron's trailer-park narratives, or give the works a once-over then head for fresh air. An existentialist with sharp technical skills, Haveron seeks both to draw and provoke. They are intimately diaristic, serve as meditations on family life, and demonstrate his keen awareness of the urgent needs of contemporary society. Deep in his work is the need to be separate and the fear of it, and also conversely the need to connect and the fear of it. These drawings are about many things: about longing, good and evil, and those who fall in between. Haveron has a gift for staring at human frailty—our meanness, fear and distress—so intently that he burrows down to its absurd and hapless core.

His works exert a palpable closeness, an intimacy with the viewer that is disorienting and destabilizing. By uncovering hidden layers of meaning, by pointing out inconsistencies in our world, Haveron breaks down religious, cultural and intellectual hierarchies and reintroduces the play of intuition and metaphor. All of the works at KHFA are prickly, abrasive and confrontational. Haveron doesn't propose a comforting sort of art; nor does he believe in the art object as one of passive contemplation. Rather, he intends the work to be an irritant, a kind of shock treatment that jolts viewers into an examination of their own values and behaviors. Confronting these large-scale drawings can induce vertigo. It's as if you've been through some kind of maelstrom and have yet to reach a state of calm, the result of living in a world in which physical and psychological stress predominate. The content of this work, springing from extremely human desire and pathos, is rooted in a discovery of who we are and how we fit into this world. In its striking poignancy, Haveron's art is implacably bound by life.

His deep insights and profound reflections on the nature of human existence—birth, death, war, home, sex and faith—provide opportunities to consider fundamental issues that could face any individual. Yet Haveron also strips away the veneer of the world—its false innocence—to reveal a hidden content of anxiety, aggression and vulnerability. Instead of simply valorizing or sentimentalizing it, Haveron gives the imagination its due as a ferocious force—stories rife with tortuous family dramas, events bordering on the supernatural, and violence that could erupt in a flash. The folksy/outsider nature of many of these stories suggests the voice of an artist who intrinsically mistrusts any institutionalized canon. Haveron's formal anarchy reads as a metaphor for the randomness of life's events. Accordingly, we enter a world where ruptures and irreparable fissures are part of the natural flow. Order and stasis, his work tells us, are illusions. Entropy, decay, disruption, and chaos are part of the process to which we all must submit if we are to have any understanding of where and how we exist in time. His drawings grab us instinctively, yet suggest poetic understanding of the plight of souls. They are not so much descriptions as outbursts of life—hence their messiness and compulsive intensity. Haveron rubs together low life, primitive and polished images in ways that strike sparks. A number of works, in fact, have a potent incisiveness that borders on high camp, often using cartoon riffs to make visually demanding statements about the tension inherent in the social construct. Fearless in their archetypal intensity, these eye-popping images hit us with the force of speeding bullets.

Jammed to all four edges with incident, Haveron's drawings are dominated by symbolic forms and figures culled from his personal vernacular and demonology. Overall, the work has the undercurrent of dread evocative of Hieronymous Bosch and Francisco Goya. An heir to the venerable tradition of art as a vehicle expression of belief, Haveron's horror vacui is charged equally by vitriol and wit. Like his predecessors, he inspires hope that the imagination will triumph over all forms of oppression. The eye is led by the pencil's rhythmical, repetitive motions across the surface, inducing a kind of trance. Fragments of form, color and marks congeal as rising and cascading forces. It partakes of a dreamlike wandering or searching trace. Still, his subjects continue to be rooted in real events and to express contemporary angst. Yet a healthy proportion of their strength comes from the use of compelling imagery to create stories out of wrenching pathos. At every turn, Haveron makes certain that his narratives expose what he sees as the virus of moral malaise. In such a visual realm, everything contends with, interrupts, and invades everything else. Indeed, Haveron's works breathe life—our own fleeting lives—as well as a physical awareness of ourselves within a broader zone of cultural associations and personal desires.

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