Our upcoming show “The New Masters of Dada” features the work of local artist Naomi Haverland. You may know Naomi for her large-scale chalk work or her mural “My Name is Awsum” at 15th and California downtown. Here Naomi talks about the origin of this painting series, the frank advice she would give to her younger self, her favorite podcasts, and more.
What would you tell your younger self when you were first embarking on your artistic career?
If I were given the opportunity to speak with my younger self as I was aspiring to become a real artist, I would probably choose to lie to myself. I am incredibly bad at estimating the amount of work something requires. If I were to know how slowly my artistic skills would develop and how much work would be involved (and how little money), I would probably decide it wasn’t worth it and might give up. But then I would miss out on so many incredible experiences and would have such an unfulfilling life. As a beginning artist, I think naivety is one of the most valuable traits to possess, because it enables you to dream and to actually take the first steps towards achieving the dream. Then once you’ve committed to the journey, you can get slapped in the face by the reality of what it requires. I hope my future self would also come back and lie to the artist I am right now.
How long do you usually take to complete a piece? Do you work on multiple pieces simultaneously?
The more my painting skills improve, the more time I end up spending on each painting. This is actually backwards from what I had hoped for– I hoped that painting would get easier and faster so I could whip out awesome paintings more quickly and become a superstar painter really quickly. But the longer I spend learning how to see light and color and translate it into paint, the more visual details I become aware of. Today I see more nuances in light and color than I used to– such as subtle reflective lighting that adds different hues onto skin tones. I can get wrapped up in trying to capture those details that I didn’t used to see. I estimate that I spend about 50-60 hours on an average size painting before I decide to call it quits. And, yes, I usually have multiple paintings in progress at one time.
Do you listen to music/audio while you work or do you prefer to work in silence? Any bands or albums you’ve been enthralled by lately?
I love to listen to podcasts while I paint. I love anything scientific or technical like RadioLab and Freakanomics. I also love true crime. I listened to every minute of the theater shooting trial and, of course, the Serial podcast. I have a theory about this– and I actually developed my theory because of a TED radio hour podcast I listened to about creativity. It said that scientists looked at MRI images of musicians’ brains while they were improvising tunes, and the section of the brain in charge of judgement was actually very inactive during the creative process. It said that being creative requires you to suspend the frontal cortex of the brain so that the imaginative and artistic parts of the brain can take over. In my case, it works better for me to occupy the technical part of the brain so that it doesn’t interfere with the creative part. It’s kind of like dealing with a 3 year-old when you want to take a bath or do something productive. You have to sit them down with a coloring page or a TV show or something else to entertain them so that they don’t come and sabotage your other activity. Podcasts keep the critical and disapproving part of my brain occupied so it doesn’t show up and ruin the party.
If you could travel to any place on earth tomorrow, where would you go?
If I could travel any place on earth, I would travel to Chili’s. I would sit in a booth with my husband– both of us on the same side– and we’d split an appetizer platter with dipping sauces and quite a few margaritas. Then I would order a dessert– probably the molten chocolate cake to go. I’d take it home with me and eat it in bed while watching a true crime documentary or something else grim that would give me nightmares. Does this answer give away how lame I am? That’s okay. I don’t want to want to give people the impression that I’m a super hip artist that knows of the coolest independent restaurant and underground music scene and other awesome stuff in Denver. Then they would be really disappointed when they get to know me. I’d rather they keep their expectations really low.
What are you currently working on and what projects do you have coming up?
Currently I’m working on my series called “The New Masters of Dada” for the show opening February 3rd at Helikon. I’ve been working on it for a little over a year now, and it consists of portraits of children being their ridiculous selves. I am fascinated by kids’ innate ability to throw together creative costumes or strike spontaneous silly poses. Children’s propensity to assemble a conglomeration of unrelated objects or expressions is similar to the Dadaist movement of the early 1900s when artists would collage together seemingly unrelated objects or images to create striking compositions. Although kids usually haven’t had enough time to develop a refined skill such as painting or sculpting almost every child can demonstrate some artistic genius when given the freedom to be silly. That’s why they’re the true masters of Dada art, and in my portrait series, I am trying to capture kids demonstrating that ability. By the time they become teenagers, they usually become fettered by the expectation that their art needs to actually mean something. After this show, I don’t know what I’ll do next.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I like to imagine everyone’s life as a diorama. Have you ever been to the Dikeou Collection? If you haven’t, it’s a Denver must-see! My favorite part is the detailed dioramas by Misaki Kawai. One of them is a double decker airplane with two rows of windows that you could spend hours looking into, exploring all the tiny details. The other is like a cave with little windows that you can peer into, and there is just so much going on inside. I like to imagine that people’s Instagram pages are like little dioramas of their lives. When you look at their Instagram profile it’s like looking at a miniature really tall building with three columns of little square windows. Each picture is like a little window into their building. And of course, like real buildings with windows, they don’t show you everything because there are also walls, and I like to imagine the most unexpected and absurd things are behind the walls.
Thank you to Naomi for participating in our interview. Her solo show opens at Helikon this Wednesday, February 3rd, from 6-10pm, and runs through February 24th. We will also be open for First Friday, February 5th. All receptions are free and open to the public, with complimentary refreshments and drinks. Visit naomihaverland.blogspot.com to see more of Naomi’s work. Visit helikongallery.com for more information about Helikon Gallery and Studios.