Words and photos by River Wharton
The day had started out with rain, making the warmth of the morning welcome. Caleb was running a bit late before the studio visit, so we sat in the shade of The Temple, one of Denver’s oldest buildings, a former synagogue built in 1882, and more recently a DIY arts venue and home to Caleb’s studio.
Caleb arrived with his work in hand and explained he hadn’t been working out of the studio because the heat on the top floor. After he let us in, we trekked to the top floor amidst whispers of music and the scent of fresh paint. As Caleb set up his new work around the room, we had a chance to talk about the nature of his work, art as a release from heartache, and how cultural identity fits in with his new show.
Who are you? Talk to me about your art. What brought you to make art? Where do you want to take it?
Making things has always been apart of me. Nothing else made sense like drawing a picture to make me feel alright. My work is a reflection of my feelings, thoughts, and whatever else comes up in the process. I was always into graffiti. I loved meeting up with all my homies, turning some music on, and just diving into my blackbook for a few hours. Growing up is tough; pressure to always fit in and be a part of something. Art for me was really the only way for me to connect with people. For awhile, my work focused on an exploration of ideas and material. Since the passing of my grandfather, my work is a meditation to feel my feelings and not suppress them; to ride the big wave, if you will.
Tell me more about Evening Ceremonies as a whole. You take inspiration from the masters to Urs Fischer. I know a lot of this show has been created in reflection of the loss of your grandfather. Can you speak to that as well?
Evening Ceremonies came to me in the night. My whole life, the night was when I've experienced something tragic or felt the most lonely. While my grandfather was in the hospital, I felt death creeping in the second the sun went down; preparing to separate me from my grandfather’s physical form. I remember the last time I saw him, I was laying my head on his chest, holding his hand, looking at him, and feeling the air enter and exit his body. I can still feel the last time I heard his heart beat pound on my head, and the moment when I knew it was going to be the last time I would see him. With the wave of sorrow that crashed over me, I was looking for anything to help me escape those feelings and that pain. I realized I was wrong for doing that, and that the only way pass it was through it. The ceremonies were what I considered a part of of my routine to help me cope with the pain. My drawings were the biggest tools to help me get through everything. At times while I was working, I remember being so overwhelmed that I began crying. I kept drawing because I had no idea what else to do.
You talk a lot about striking a balance. Be it between your life and work, or especially hardness and softness in your art. It’s a chance for you to be fluid and express yourself completely. This fluidity is discussed widely now in regards to identity. You mentioned exploring identity with your new work. Can you tell me more about the exploration of identity in your art?
I like that, hardness and softness. As you can probably already tell, I'm a pretty sensitive person, and I felt like when everything in my life made a complete 180 this year, I began not really giving a shit about so much. I realized that I have no control over things, and that's okay. I started making things a little more rugged and spending less time on them. Then being very precise and spending tons of time on other things. It was mostly important for me just to make things, even if I didn't really know what was going to happen. Identity is less apparent in my work but it's something I've always thought about. I'm half Hispanic and speak Spanish, I spoke it growing up. I grew up eating menudo, posole, and everything in between; I was raised in a semi-traditional Spanish home. A lot of my friends and family call me "Guero" which means "white boy" in Spanish. My whole life I've belonged to a culture obviously very important to me, but at the same time been set apart from because of the color of my skin. It's difficult to explain, but recently, in my practice, I started stepping out of drawing Greco-Roman sculptures, and started drawing people. All colors, ages, sexes, anyone really.
Tell me more about the names of some of your pieces, you mentioned a few were from poems and from Buddhist thought, right? Give us a few examples. Give us an idea of not only how this show came together, but why.
I like titling work. Where I feel like my subject matter is an illustration of some kind of feeling, words help sculpt the drawing into a clearer picture (for me at least). I really loved making "Calm Is Thy Slumber". It was right after things had taken a huge turn in my life; I was talking to a few friends about how I never dream when I sleep, how I love it. It's the only time where I've experienced nothing. Completely black and hollow, I feel weightless and safe. That feeling stems from something I read in the Heart Sutra called Shunyata, look it up. I was originally going to try and do 100 drawings on found book pages and title the show "100 Demons". I wanted it to be a year long experiment to illustrate the constant change and adaptation to life. But when my grandfather passed, I felt like it only made sense to make a show about what it feels like to lose someone you love, and to miss them for the rest of your life.
To meet Caleb in person, talking about his process and thoughts behind his work, was inspiring. With a touch of sensitivity, to be able to laugh in the darkness, Caleb achieves a powerful balance. These new works transcend from intimate night ceremonies, into moments of unveiling, of light. This is his reminder of how we all must pass through the fires first, before we can live.
Experience Caleb Hahne’s new body of work "Evening Ceremonies" this Saturday night, July 11th, from 6-10pm. The show will run through August 5th.