As an artist, de la Haba is well known for his work as a painter and now for his Totem-
The ocean or sea as subject matter in art is varied as art itself. Romantic painters including Casper David Friedrich and Theodore Gericault whose respective works of The Monk by the Sea (1810-12) and Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819), for example, dovetail on two notions of the maritime sublime wherein the former concerns transcendence and the other horror. More recently have been contemporary artists such as the photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto who focused on the sea but from a conceptual framework. It is through all of these antecedents that one should approach the recent solo exhibition of Gregory de la Haba titled Vertical Horizons/Horizontal Waves, Totem Poems, at Monaco’s Meta Gallery.
Presented under his paternal nom de plume of de la Haba, the exhibition consists of photographs, assemblages, and sculptures thematically oriented around surfboards, the sea and tangentially the surfing subculture found throughout the world’s coasts. More than just a sport or recreation, surfing at its absolute is a lifestyle in which its practitioners have an almost Zen-like reverence for their activity and all things associated with it. The permutations that de la Haba configures in these intricately crafted sculptures encompass the surfer’s ethos and not only are they visually arresting artworks, but he manages to imbue this sculptural corpus with a broad purview of meaning that in lesser artistic and imaginative hands would suffer from the thematic and formal singularity.
Some sculptures are parred down where the arabesques seamlessly carved into the boards are animated by rich and otherworldly palettes. The interplay between negative space and the positive contours of the sculptures create, among other things, a sensuous allusion to the curvature of the human body. Most of de la Haba’s sculptures seemingly drift afield from their primary source, however: although the works are upright and generally resemble a surfboard, that is where surfing ends and a myriad of the narrative possibilities begin.
In the Muses of Monte Carlo (2019) for instance, the vertical forms in the three black totems, each with a painted gold stripe running down its center, take on religious and anthropological dimensions. The Christian Trinity
The delicate and masterful cuts in the sculptures are not only compositional devices
But de la Haba’s formal and thematic use of the surfboard is not only touching on what might seem as the intangible; in two other works, Bleached Coral Totem #1 (2019), and Bleached Coral Totem #2 (2019), he has incorporated on their surfaces, front and back, an array of quotidian detritus, mostly plastics, found on New York City beaches. Hence these sculptures are a stark reminder of the fragility of the sea and the dangers of using it as some kind of public waste disposal. At the same time, de la Haba manages to make these works hauntingly beautiful: the white pigments and materials incorporated to ‘bleach’ the totems’ polychromatic waste (bleaching occurs naturally to coral reefs when they die, when the water they live in becomes contaminated and the healthy algae which give the reefs their color is killed off) meta-
The wide formal and conceptual purview of the exhibition is astonishing considering its use of the surfboard as the point of thematic departure, and this is underscored in comparing other artists who used the same format consisting mostly of painting or printing on a surfboard’s foam surface before it is sealed with resin.
As an artist de la Haba is known for his work as a painter, and it’s revelatory to see him delve into another medium with such artistic deftness and assurance. We can only hope that he continues to ride out this wave wherever it will take him.
de la Haba’s exhibition is on view in Monaco at the META Gallery 39 Avenue Princesse Grace for those passing through Monaco.
For any inquiries of de la Haba’s work, Please contact Donnalynn Patakos: [email protected]