The Path From Sky to Sea: An Interview with Caleb Hahne
The La Brea Studio artists residency located in Los Angeles continues their exciting program of hosting emerging young artists from around the globe and presenting their work at the now iconic space cozily known as The Cabin. The current presentation, opened just a few days ago, features all-new works by Denver-based artist Caleb Hahne whose last solo show was featured on Juxtapoz a few months back.
Hahne's visual language characteristically glows with a strong accent on light that engages his scenes with an enveloping warmth. Usually working from memory, unconcerned with distracting details of his subject, the artist prefers to focus on atmospheric effects on figures and shapes, concentrating on the creation of dreamy, delicate visuals. And due to the August Complex fire, the largest "gigafire" in the state's history, his month-long stay at The La Brea Studio ignited a mood and scenario he portrays with forcible effect.
The body of work now on view comprises mostly large-scale canvases imbued with sultry orange light. Human figures seem to sleepwalk through the drama in the scenes that both resonate and intrigue, so that compelled us to reach out to Hahne and learn more about his process and how his stay in California influenced his practice.
Sasha Bogojev: What is the theme or the connecting thread between the works in the show?
Caleb Hahne: When I first got to LA I wanted to make paintings about where I'm from (Denver) but when I got there the skies were enchanting so I felt obligated to paint them. There were also huge fires happening in both Los Angeles and Denver simultaneously which was altering the skies and it seemed like a poetic thing to talk about in the paintings; especially since the sun and sky have been a theme in my work. So themes of fire, water, and beautiful sunsets as punctuation on the day seemed to flow together nicely for the exhibition. It's sad when you think about how beautiful the skies were based on their proximity to the fires. There's also this lack of urgency that I noticed from everyone (myself included). I remember being on the highway and getting ready to go somewhere to swim, and in the distance, there was a huge plume of smoke and thinking how unaffected everyone seemed. So the paintings of the two figures in the show doing seemingly regular stuff amidst the fires are a reflection of that experience.
What's the meaning of the glass of water?
Southern California gets a large percentage of their water from the Colorado river and it felt like a great symbol for the exhibition—a Colorado artist taking up space in Los Angeles. As I stated above, since there were huge fires happening in the Denver and LA at the same time, I couldn't help but think about the relationship between water and fire, and how one cannot exist without the other. Southern California was not designed to populate and facilitate as many people and as much water as it does and I can't help but think about how finite water actually is; especially considering both Colorado and California are in a drought. We think of water as this endless supply that flows from elsewhere but it has an endpoint. It's funny because the paintings seem pleasant and calming but they're actually quite bleak. So there are two sides to the paintings - one being an exhaust to the fires and the other to its limited supply.
Are these the biggest canvases you worked on and how did it feel to scale up so much?
They are! The biggest painting in the exhibition was 72" x 84". It was liberating in a weird way- maybe because I didn't have to build and stretch the canvas by myself haha. But Danny put the "what if" in my mind and I'm one of those people that's always trying to prove what they're capable of to themselves. I'm definitely going to continue painting large. It really changes the way you think about paint and how to handle it. I was also thinking about the Rothko Chapel a lot when making the work for the exhibition. The Cabin in itself is a spiritual experience and so I wanted to make these large orange paintings that vibrated off one another when you're in the space. Almost like you can't help but notice the fire at your front door or the feeling/color of the sun as it touches your face when your eyes are closed.
Did the stay at The Cabin inform the work in any way?
It made me want to get a live/work space and not have my studio so far from home. I got to spend to much time with the work in a way that I never have before. I would wake up around 8:00, walk to get coffee, paint until 2 or 3, relax, take a nap, see friends, eat dinner and paint from 8 to around 12-2 in the morning. I felt like I got more out of that than my typical 9-6 days back in Denver. I felt less obligated to get everything done in the allotted time than to spread it out.