New Iconography: The Artwork of Thomas Christopher Haag FeaturedWritten by Brian Nixon
By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS -- February 27, 2018) -- As an amateur artist, I’m always on the lookout for local, professional artists to support. By and large a professional artist is someone who lives off the sale of his or her art. And if they do have an auxiliary job it’s usually to help pay the bills and buy supplies. Most of the local artists I know earn just enough money to make ends-meet. And though I don’t have lots of spare cash, I feel it is type of calling to support artists when I can. For as I’ve said elsewhere: a city is only as good as the art and artists it supports; an artless city is an uninspired city . And I want to live in an inspiring city.
One of the artists I’ve recently connected with is Thomas Christopher Haag, co-owner of Relic . Shortly after I moved to Albuquerque I quickly became familiar with Thomas’ work due to three large murals covering a building on Second Street in the downtown area. The work is called Totem of the Ancient Ones . In addition to the Second Street murals, Thomas’ work covers other buildings throughout Albuquerque and beyond , not to mention his inclusion in galleries and museums throughout the region.
Later, I learned more about Haag’s work through Colorés, a local broadcast on PBS . Due to an interest in modern iconography , my ears perked when PBS likened Haag’s work to “new iconography.”
But more than Christian symbolism, much of Haag’s work incorporates symbols from around the world. In his artwork one will find imagery from various civilizations, “multi-layered, collaged paintings and assemblages which reference ancient cultures and spiritual traditions,” as his website states.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, Haag has travelled the United States—from coast to coast, finding a permanent residence in Albuquerque in 2004. As one gallery states concerning his travels, Haag was “born into a family as vast as the sea. He took chemistry and math classes for some reason at the University of Kansas and then dropped out and started hitchhiking. He has lived in Southern Mexico, Switzerland, India, Spain, the Pacific Northwest, and California.”
In his recent collage series Haag integrates traditional iconographical elements taken from Christian symbolism, but with a catch. Rather than images of people, most of the icons are of animals or creatures of Haag’s own imagination.
In the work I purchased, The Hermit Come Out, one finds a cheetah surrounded by a halo carrying a staff and wearing a robe. Behind the image of the cheetah is the symbolic rendering familiar to Haag’s work, a type of primitive and emblematic-based imagery. The figure in The Hermit Comes Out is something you’d expect Moses to resemble, not necessarily a cheetah. But so it goes with Haag’s work.
When I picked up the work from Haag’s studio off Central Avenue in downtown Albuquerque, Haag showed me how he layers his painting. He starts with painting the symbols (the background) and then adds the shapes and larger figures. He uses reclaimed house paint acquired from chemical facilities, found wood, and discarded books .
In an article for Alibi, Thomas expands on why he uses symbols within his work.
“I've studied iconography and symbology for a long time and I've always put it in my work. I'm a big fan of astronomy and molecular makeup … Subatomic particles look a lot like atoms banging around. Ever since I was a kid I've found that really fascinating… I'm really excited about the laws of nature—as we know them [and how] they don't work in some situations. Concepts like time and space are exciting to me. I like the way the world is getting frustrated with old ideas” .
With the incorporation of old or new ideas in his work, one thing is certain: Thomas’ art represents Albuquerque well. California-Nevada artist, Jeff LeFever, who was known for some animal renderings , has mentioned that he feels Thomas’ work embodies Albuquerque more than other local artists he’s seen. “Haag’s work exemplifies Albuquerque,” he told me. “When I see Haag’s work, I immediately think of New Mexico’s largest city—the center of the Southwest.”
To watch the creation of Totem for the Ancient Ones in downtown Albuquerque, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuIsM2CJeIk
Photo captions: 1) The Hermit Comes Out, 2017, acrylic, collage, colored on panel. 2) Buffalo Urges Us Not To Freak Out When It Happens, 2016, 48" x48", acrylic, collage, colored pencil on panel. 3) Totem of the Ancient Ones in downtown Albuquerque. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, artist, musician, and educator. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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