While Havard is best known for referencing Native American and African cultural symbols, the exhibition offers additional perspectives on his extensive body of work that spans over forty years.
James Havard first gained recognition in the late 1970’s as a leading figure of the Abstract Illusionist movement in New York, along with Al Held, Allan D’Arcangelo and other artists. In the early 1980’s, Havard included his signature trompe l'oeil forms in a series of paintings that incorporate Native American iconography and gestural expressionism. Mudhead Room / French Couch, 1985, exquisitely fuses Illusionist, Abstract Expressionist and indigenous references, introducing a personal visual language that is akin to the graphic works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the calligraphic imagery of Cy Twombly.
By the late 1980’s, Havard moved away from the Abstract Illusionist style and became engrossed in the prehistoric cultures of the Southwest. In 1989 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where the cultures and symbols of the Plains Indians, Navajo and Mimbres peoples increasingly influenced his work. A collector of Native American pottery, beadwork and masks, Havard included images from rock pictograms, African tribal power figures, and geographical references in this new series. Although allusions to Native American and African symbols predominate in Havard’s work, he has also incorporated the impact of colonialism on indigenous people through references to American Folk art and Christian iconography. These works showcase Havard’s experimentation with assemblage, mixed media, and three-dimensional box constructions, as seen below in AH-PS-163, 336A, 1993, which also depicts an image of a pre-Colombian figure.
In the mid-1990s, after suffering two near-death experiences within a short period, Havard developed a new encaustic style of painting. This series of figurative work recalls the influence of Art Brut master Jean Dubuffet. In his crude treatment of rudimentary figures and tightly cropped compositions, Havard, like Dubuffet, shows his interest in art created by untrained artists whose raw visions were devoid of artistic conventions. Painting with both ends of the brush, his fingers, and mixing wax with paint to build up thick layers of textured surface, this later body of work touches upon the emotional states of the human psyche with a new sense of urgency, as seen in Woman Giving Finger, 1997.
Whether addressing personal or universal experiences, Havard’s preoccupation with man’s connection to the spiritual world is felt throughout his forty-year practice. The implicit and explicit references to cultural symbols, deities and artifacts underscore the mysticism in Havard’s immediate and emotive works of art.