Queens Logic, a movie featuring actor Kevin Bacon and Trees Lounge's Steve Buscemi capture charisma of men growing up in parts of Queens, New York. These are hardworking men with brotherly spirit who share masculine identity, confidence and braggadocio. Somehow their lives are represented as to what is the bigger picture; they exist as something other than themselves or perchance dream. Gregory de la Haba is a Queens native. As an artist and self-made icon he comes from a lineage of strong men. His father and grandfather influenced him, most notably with his marketing techniques for selling art and a love for horses.
I recently came across an old printed ad for the gallery Jack the Pelican Presents on the back cover of Whitehot Magazine's Volume 2. There was so much allure, style and decor in the photograph. At the center of it all is Gregory de la Haba gently holding a cigar. His face expresses the most romantic yet cocksure look, making me believe he lives his life knowing that he has made it.
Gregory's paintings are NeoClassical with an aura of amour, innocence, and tragedy but an overall style which depicts Greg's talent as a skilled painter. His artworks are functional -- created as murals for Sean MacPherson's Roger Room in LA, and recently Armin Armiri's Mr. H inside the new Mondrian Hotel in Chinatown. Selected solo and group exhibitions include SWELL (Nyehaus Gallery), Equus Maximus (Jack the Pelican Presents), Queens International 4 (Queens Museum). De la Haba has also shown at venues such as Trash Art Museum, Munich, Salzburg Arts Festival, Austria, and Miami, Scope Art Show 2010, Miami.
Kofi Forson: The first time I met you was at the opening of my show Dismember the Night with New York artist Dianne Bowen. My impression was that you were free spirit, some where between rock star, high class chef, yogi, Svengali, fashion photographer. How would you describe the de la Haba look?
Gregory de la Haba: I can totally live with your impression, thank you very much.
Forson: I can't place you either. There's a certain ambiguity to your name. What is the origin of the name de la Haba?
de la Haba : My father's surname originated in Spain in 1068 when the Kings of Aragon were battling the Moors.
Forson: Were you born and raised New York?
de la Haba: Born and raised in Queens, New York.
Forson: See I wouldn't have guessed that. I would have thought Colorado, New Mexico or even California.
de la Haba: I often dream of being from California. Love the whole West Coast vibe. Flushing, Queens, doesn't quite sound as cool as Venice
Beach, California. (laughter)
Forson: I remember when I met you for the second time. I sensed this masculinity about you. In Joyce Carol Oates' book, On Boxing, Marvin Hagler was quoted as saying before entering the ring for a fight boxers get erect. They actually have a hard on. Without being too homoerotic I got the feeling that you had stones. You had balls. You were a ballsy guy.
de la Haba: Stones? I had to be, I have two older brothers who always kicked my ass. Today they call it bullying. Back then it was brotherly love. Punishment for being a little-shit-pain-in-the-ass. That's an interesting boxing analogy you gave me there, never heard it. I'm more familiar with de Niro's character in Raging Bull having to abstain from sex and erections. I do know this much for sure: A horse with a hard-on is not a fast horse. Too much wind resistance. (laughs)
Forson: No you're right. Boxers don't fuck during training. That's why they build up all this sexual energy when they enter the ring. Like the Oliver Reed wrestling scene in Ken Russell's Women in Love. Artists make art. Most of them have problems getting noticed. I think Picasso and also Madonna once said art is 20 percent. The other 80 is the business side. But how many artists have Picasso's balls or Madonna's savvy. When did art become a business and not just fun for you?
de la Haba: My father, a salesman, traveled a lot and never accepted 'no' as an answer, or at least never took it personally when the door closed on his face, attributes to his success. Mother was an Avon Lady. Selling is in the blood, ingrained in the skull. The problem, however, is that people don't need art the same way they need a vacuum cleaner, bottle of wine or some lipstick. It's also no help when your work, my work, the product, lends itself to being deep, dark and mysterious or is twelve foot high and fourteen feet long. Art is a luxury and commodity. People who spend money on luxuries tend to go with the pretty, the shiny, the decorative, the non-threatening, like most work by Jeff Koons. That’s why the bread and butter over the years, for me were murals for bars like the Roger Room in L.A. or Mister H. here in the city and the occasional big tax ticket at the racetrack. But the real business is simply tending to it, the work, everyday.
Forson: Much like Charles Bukowski and Sam Shepard you have a fascination with horses, OTB and gambling. How did your love for horses come about?
de la Haba: Both parents worked and the fondest memory as a kid was walking to the local OTB (Off Track Betting parlors) in Flushing, Queens, each day with my Irish grandfather. My job was to look for winning tickets on the floor. Grandpa Joe had no teeth (a hustling street fighter during the depression) He had horse tats on his arms and a beaming smile on his face never mattered whether 'his' horse won or not. OTB went out of business last year. The only bookie in the world to go under. If I needed to go place a bet and had the kids with me they wouldn't let me in. As if putting a few dollars on a pony is instilling a bad influence on children. My kids know fractions because of quarter poles at the track for Christ's sake. I had the best time growing up with a grandfather in an OTB. That was back when everyone smoked cigars, pipes, and cigarettes, inside the establishment! And the B.O. was horrendous. But I loved it. So that was the first spark that ignited interest in horses and racing. Then at 26 I purchased a race horse. That’s when fascination turned addiction. (laughter)
Forson: Growing up, S. E. Hinton's novels The Outsiders and Rumble Fish influenced my thinking. As an adult I aspired to be men like John Lurie, Christopher Walken, painters such as Eric Fischl and David Salle. Does Hollywood affect the way you perceive the world? You mentioned Robert De Niro. Are there actors or movie roles that feed into your sense of integrity, honor and dignity whether George C. Scott in Patton or Brando in Godfather?
de la Haba: The only actor and the only movie that influenced my determination and desire to be an artist was Mickey Rourke as poet
Bukowski in Barfly. Living and being who I believe I was born to be no matter what was the key lesson I learned from that flick. And to always buy drinks for friends.
Forson: Hollywood has merged with art for the longest time from Dali's glamour to Warhol's affinity for attracting Super models, musicians and
actors. How do you react to the allure in the art world? How do you manage the game as an outsider looking to get in?
de la Haba: Well, you said, it's a game. And my take is that the longer you play the game the greater the odds are at increasing your chances of success or achieving something meaningful and lasting. As for the Hollywood and the glamorous allure? Not interested. It’s honest work that I'm after. I make it and seek it. Models grow old, musicians burn out and actors fade away, overdose or run for office but their works last forever. It's vital to put the energy in the work while the artist has all that vital energy at the point and time in his or her life.
Forson: The 80's Neo-Expressionist male was both masculine and feminine. Your paintings are Neo Classical. The colors give off a romantic impression, the yellow, pink, red and other velvet colors. In a masculine world how does the male defend himself from other men and at the same time embrace the love of a woman?
de la Haba: Can you repeat the question, please?
Forson: How love is translated from art through words and image. And in so doing how does the artist express love in the human sense?
de la Haba: I see paintings as poems without words, therefore I regard myself more a poet than painter and what masculine male picks on poets?
Forson: Hahaha… story of my life. I play macho but I am a poet. Some masculine men are impressed. I mean I spent a whole summer giving flowers to strange women. Haha…!
de la Haba: Embracing love is easy, holding on to that love is harder than defending against any male or army of men but yet a million times more rewarding.
Forson: I grew up on cable television, public access shows like Midnight Blue. This choice of programming was the origin of pornography in my life. I later learned to seduce girls into my art practice. They were what I called muses. These girls were not representative of "pussy". Pussy to me was always the porn stars of my generation, Vanessa del Rio and Hyapatia Lee. Is the chronology of "pussy" in your life more art oriented?
de la Haba: No lady wants to read this question and no man would care answer it. Thank you.
Forson: You host a series of get-togethers featuring established writers. How did this come about? Who are some of the writers who have read at this event?
de la Haba: Living in this Big Apple of ours you come across a lot of people, all hustling and bustling their wares. I know tons of people and am just fortunate enough to be in a position to connect dots, line-up events and throw big parties like the one at the Bowery Hotel during
Armory Week last. Douglas Light, author of East Fifth Bliss, and Alethea Black of I'd Knew You'd Be Lovely Fame are two dear friends who've read or will read at my Bodega de la Haba Brunch With Artists Series. And I'm really excited about the next event on May 27th at the venerable McSorley's Old Ale House featuring Pulitzer Prize winning poet Franz Wright and poet extraordinaire Geoffrey Bartholomew. It’s going to be awesome!
Forson: You travel with quite an entourage these days. Anybody you wanna give a shout out to? What shows do you have coming up? As an artist or promoter?
de la Haba: I love hanging and drinking with talented work horses like Michael Anderson, d[NASA]b, BTA, Lee Wells, Erik Pye, Greg Haberny, all here on the East Coast and while out on the West Coast I seek the company of Timothy Williams, Casper Brindle, Andy Moses, Lindsay Scoggins, David Tamargo and Lindsay Nobel and all the other cool cats in Venice Beach. In early June I'm headed to Scope Art Basel in Switzerland and September to Los Angeles for Platform LA, both venues I'll be showing with my dealer Petra Leene of Amstel Gallery, Amsterdam.
Forson: Time well spent Gregory. I enjoyed it.
de la Haba: Kofi, thank you very much. Time well spent indeed.
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Kofi Forson is a writer, photographer and director living in NYC.
His current blog is BLACK COCTEAU, a mixture of philosophy and art on modern culture.