Local painter Andrew Havenhand has moved away from a violent, abstract style.
Andrew Havenhand, his wife, Lucinda Kaukas, and their little black dog, Sophie, are wonderfully articulate about the art of painting, the elements of design, the practice of teaching and writing, and the joys of dog ownership.
With Sophie barking outside on the screen porch and Lucinda intermittently popping in with a comment or two, Havenhand discusses his latest body of work a dozen or so large, non-referential abstract paintings that he will show this month at Mary Baldwin College.
Leaning against the walls of the Havenhands' bare Southside living room, the canvases in this intimate setting form a type of Modernist church of luminous acrylic stained-glass. Employing candy colors of lime, pink, peach, violet and baby blue, Havenhand divides his 6-by-5-foot canvases into sections; some are formulaic with hard-edge, rational grids reminiscent of the minimalist painter Frank Stella. Other passages are more haphazard, layered, and illogical, fashioning a pigmented fabric of vibrant woven patches. Together, these contiguous segments rub together, creating a visual tension that both viscerally bedazzles the eye and cerebrally challenges the brain.
"[Back in the '70s] I got very excited about the idea of a purely abstract painting when I saw what had been produced by the New York School," Havenhand says. Citing Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning as influential to his style, this British native has been developing out of the Abstract Expressionist movement ever since.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Havenhand attended art school in Leeds as well as the Cardiff College of Art in Wales. In the early '80s, he moved to the United States, attended the Brooklyn Museum School of Art for a year and then moved to Richmond, where he completed his master's degree in painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1984.
Despite the expressive, gestural style typical of the Abstract Expressionists, Havenhand feels that in the last 25 years, he has gradually moved away from this slashing, aggressive method of painting and more toward a passive, gentler approach to the canvas.
"As I've grown older and changed, so have my paintings," he says. "I still, however, am interested in how a painting makes me and the viewer feel. I may be using a more passive style but I've learned that to be expressive, there is more than one way to skin a cat."
Felines aside, Havenhand's wife, Lucinda, an art historian and professor of communication arts at VCU, sees his work as very architectural and closely related to the principles of design. "They have a Byzantine quality," she says, referring to the rather glowing quality of the mosaic compositions as well as the material the artist employs interference, metallic, and iridescent acrylic paints which cause the paintings to change and shift as one moves around them.
Despite Havenhand's desire for the works to not literally refer to anything but themselves, he does see them as alluding in some ways to landscape painting in their format and ability to play with the spatial realm through color. Previously, the artist left his works untitled, but for the upcoming show, he will name each work after a particular hiking and climbing trail of Seneca Rocks, W.Va., where the couple has a home. Thus, "Drop Zone," "Madmen Only" and "Back to the Front" will uncannily reinforce the paintings' inherent tendency to shift perspective, veer to the edges, and offer changing prospects just like a mountain trail.
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