September 22, 2011
Street Shooting Man
Atlanta multi-media artist Matt Haffner gets graphic with a new show at Whitespace Gallery through Oct. 15
By Felicia Feaster
Matt Haffner’s works may ooze urban grit, street smarts and seamy film noir suspense, but we peel back the former street artist’s layers, to reveal a “retrosexual” father who likes to bake, digs filmmaker Wong Kar Wai’s woozy love stories, and has a new fondness for progressive dance troupes.
Hunkered down at Octane coffee shop in Westside to talk about his solo show at Whitespace Gallery, Matt Haffner looks every inch the impossibly cool urban artist. Dressed in his signature vintage hat, flannel shirt and Converse high tops, Haffner epitomizes that nimble, adaptable, democratic breed of artist able to navigate gallery openings and gritty street photography with equal aplomb. But don’t let the Grizzly Adams beard and multiple tattoos fool you. Retrosexual Haffner is as evolved a man as you could find, with a three-year-old daughter, a 21-year-old son, an artist wife of 11 years Laura Bell, a cute bungalow in Kirkwood, a steady teaching job at Kennesaw State University and a Ward Cleaver patriarchal calm lurking within that hipster facade. He’s a man so comfortable in his own skin, he can bake and nurture and emote with no fear that his masculinity will be compromised—the kind of even-tempered guy you’d want around when a jumper has to be talked down from a ledge or a small child’s ice cream cone head-plants the pavement. Matt makes everything seem OK.
The artist’s iconoclastic, edgy work suggests an often darker, edgier sensibility, but a deep commitment to the integrity of the places and the people he documents. He incorporates elements of photography, graffiti art and documentary into his photo-based collage, video and installation work, but in a signature style that is unmistakably Haffneresque.
His moody, graphic images also happen to make Atlanta seem like the most compelling city on the planet. His film noir tableaux of city folk engaged in unsavory and provocative behavior and his street art photo-based murals bring a seductive, cinematic quality to Atlanta--offering up a city incubating any number of fascinating stories, people and places.
Haffner’s new solo exhibition Just Across the Tracks at Whitespace Gallery (814 Edgewood Avenue) through October 15 continues the artist’s engaging fixation on narrative-rich urban spaces: the old factories and gas stations, dive restaurants and pawn shops where mini-dramas unfold. In his gorgeously graphic, cut-paper silhouette pieces, Haffner layers grey sky, white buildings and black figures in a theatrical tableaux, where street artist’s lay up wheat paste murals, pedestrians gawk at a helicopter flying overhead, and homeless men walk the city streets pushing shopping carts heaped with their belongings. There’s a reason Haffner has exhibitions programmed throughout the U.S. through 2013. His work is punchy, slick, sexy, but filled to the brim with fascinating content. Equally engaging are the wall-sized video pieces Haffner has created for Just Across the Tracks that bring Atlanta’s teeming, cacophonous streetscape spilling into Whitespace’s serene Inman Park gallery. Haffner used both a video camera and a large-format still camera to document the mom and pop businesses and the passing parade of humanity on Atlanta’s gritty streets.
Luxecrush sat down to speak with the accomplished multi-media artist to talk about where he finds inspiration as well as his surprising kitchen wizardry.
Your work is so cinematic. Is there a short list of films you really love?
Anything by Jean-Pierre Jeunet [Delicatessen, Amélie]. I like that old, nostalgic kind of feel. One of my hands-down favorite films is [Wong Kar-Wai’s] In the Mood for Love.
What’s your state of mind immediately after completing a show: relief, sadness, elation?
It’s different every time. The danger for most artists is that postpartum depression. I was just making some notes: get back in the studio, don’t just play Xbox and watch TV and not do anything. I’ve got to be right back in the studio doing stuff.
What’s the great thing about having an artist spouse and the not-so-great thing?
The great thing is that she is my go-to for criticism and knows my work intimately; better than anyone else. Laura can hurt my feelings way more than anyone else, I think because I listen so much to what she says. Sometimes I don’t even want to ask her because I’m setting myself up for a fall. The downside is probably dealing with each others’ highs and lows in terms of making work. The highs feel more rare than the lows.
What’s the craziest thing someone said to you while you were on the street working on Just Across the Tracks?
There was a guy who spoke to me in a whisper about fax machines and the CDC, this weird paranoia. He was in my ear for half an hour. I draw people like that to me.
Where is your favorite place to go in Atlanta, to remind you that this is a fascinating city?
I love all the pocket neighborhoods Atlanta has. I think it’s something that makes Atlanta unique: going to Kirkwood Village, and then East Atlanta Village, Oakhurst village: those little pockets and hang out spots are so great. My favorite place to photograph is Broad Street in Fairlie-Poplar. It’s short and narrow with cobblestones and it’s kind of dark.
Favorite mobile food truck?
George Long’s the Good Food Truck is hard to beat. That poodle hot dog is phenomenal.
Favorite King of Pops flavor?
Mexican chocolate. It’s got cayenne and cinnamon in it. Man it’s so good.
The best thing that’s happened in Atlanta in a long time?
The temporary art and the dance. And I’m not even a dance fan. It’s cool and I don’t really understand it. It’s like performance art. Everything I’ve seen by GloATL (www.gloatl.com) and Laurie Stallings is all really phenomenal. It reaches out to such a huge audience. Even if people don’t understand it, they still love it. And all this Living Walls (livingwallsconference.com) stuff: it’s so cool to see murals in Atlanta.
What is the refrain you find yourself giving your daughter again and again? The piece of advice or note of caution?
Everything is about choices. Your kids and your spouse, you can trust them if you witness them making good decisions. We’re always like “make a good decision,” which usually is a precursor to a Three Mile Island meltdown. It’s like pushing pudding uphill.
What would be your last meal?
Anything from Bacchanalia. Foie gras and squab: that was probably the best meal I ever had in my life.
Favorite quality in a woman?
Boy that is a minefield. Intelligence....I’m thinking of what Laura might read later...
In a man?
Genuineness. I feel like so many have this front to them. The men I like have this warmth and honesty that exudes from them.
What would people be shocked to know you do in your spare time?
I probably cook 80 percent of the food that we eat. I make a gallon of yogurt from scratch every week that we eat. I bake artisan breads. I can braise. I make my own stock. I make my own granola.
Beer or bourbon?
I’m a teetotaler.
Steak or Thai food?
Does a Thai beef salad count?
Christina Hendricks or Zooey Deschanel?
Sweets. We’re gearing up for my fat period: wedding anniversary Oct. 6; Laura’s birthday Nov. 12; Matilda’s birthday November. 16; then Thanksgiving; my son’s birthday’s Dec. 12; Christmas; my birthday Dec. 27; New Year’s.
Last great book you’ve read?
The Windup Girlby Paolo Bacigalupi. Steinbeck is amazing, I love Moby Dick. I love Cormac McCarthy. At the end of The Road, I was in Seattle when I finished that book and I sat and cried for 20 minutes. My dad died when I was 19, so anything dad-related really gets me.
Is there something your students or young artists do that you wish they wouldn’t do?
I think it’s difficult to see an artist who’s smart, making really good work and then they get out of school and stop. I had a student years ago; at the time I thought she was the most talented artist I ever had. And I was pushing her to think about grad schools. And she said “I want to get out and just start making babies.” It just ripped my heart out.
Matt Haffner’s exhibit of new work, “Just Across the Tracks” is on show at Whitespace Gallery, 814 Edgewood Ave., through Oct. 15. Gallery hours: Wed-Sat., 11AM-5PM or by appointment, www.whitespace814.com. For more info on Matt Haffner visit www.matthaffner.com
Haffner talk about the making of his composite street portraiture work for his current show at Whitespace: www.vimeo.com/whitespace814
Check out this interesting video from 2006, in which Haffner talks about his city-wide art installation project, entitled “Serial City,” in conjunction with Atlanta Celebrates Photography. http://vimeo.com/1275535
SEE THE SLIDESHOW BELOW OF HAFFNER’S WORKS FROM HIS CURRENT SHOW AND PAST PROJECTS