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Letting color lead the way
Henning Haupt

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Saturated in layered color, tickled with wisps of fancy and brushed with captured emotions, the painted canvases of Henning Haupt leave the viewer the chance to ponder. Haupt has taken abstract to a new form. By leaving lines behind, he plays with his palette, letting the hues he chooses determine the overall mood.

The drawings he still does helped him initially to make this new creation. He began with line drawings of figures and landscapes in dark crayon, but these, he said, “developed into more abstract, combined with colors.” He shows an oxymoronic color scheme with opposing hues in harsh conjunction, combining cold and heat in one frame, a passionate conflict he enjoys perpetuating. He adds, “The lines went away and colors became the foreground. I began exploring the spaces.”

Whether the colors, which have taken on a mind of their own, are pulling from white space or completely taking over the canvas, their inspiration comes from Henning's own experiences. He moved here a mere two years ago from his home of Berlin, Germany.

Nature has become his muse. “What I like most is … the Everglades, the beach...” He goes on to explain the joy of a simple bike ride and how he is surprised that people here prefer the air-conditioned indoors to the beauty of the outside world, something he relishes. “Coming from Berlin's winters,” he says, “I find it strange that no one here seems to want to be outdoors.”

One of his paintings is a mix mostly of blues and greens with purples thrown in, a piece inspired by a snorkeling trip. Another with a background of lime green came to life from thoughts of his own tropical paradise. A large canvas with deep colors seems to also hold a hidden deep meaning. He likes to do his pieces in a series of three to six. “Each one tells a story unto itself, but, together, the whole room becomes a story,” he says.

Much like his translucent oil-painted canvases, his ranch-style home is simple with white speckled floors and modern translucent chairs, a mix of white and black that opens via see-through glass doors to the vibrant backyard, welcoming its colors inward. There is a wash of green – trees and grass with a splash of flowers and a dash of brightly colored outdoor furniture in green, pink and blue. He hopes someday to have his studio within this lush landscape. At the time of this interview, he was in the process of finally getting a new studio in Fort Lauderdale. For now, he tilts his larger than life canvases against the wall, allowing them to overwhelm the space.

His home is painted bright and pink, something he would have had a harder time pulling off in Germany. “A hot pink house would be weird in Berlin,” he says. “[Painting it pink] was a chance of a lifetime.”

He finds it interesting how cultures see color differently. “South Americans’ view of color is different than Florida. What some think is beautiful, others might see as ugly. There is real culturally coded diversity in color,” says Haupt.

Besides painting, this 45-year-old teaches architecture at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. This was his field of study at Michigan's Cranbrook Academy of Art. He took up painting there but expanded later. “I wish I would have started sooner. I am not mad about stuff I did. My work comes out of that. Of course, if I would have started earlier, I would have had more done by now, but education is important,” he says, adding that in his architectural studies, he learned the basics of art, by doing drawings, sculpture and the like.

This crossover is something he now teaches to students, talking especially lately about how color informs architecture. He finished his Ph.D. with a dissertation on the perception and use of color. With his pupils, he talks about color being an entity to itself, a material – the same as wood or steel. “I encourage my students to combine both 3-D color and space,” he explains.

He shows one of his creations: a 3-D cut-fold of striped colors. He painted the canvas, then cut it out and glued it back together again allowing the color to determine the spatial outcome. “The shape becomes the result of the painting,” he says, finding the concept fascinating.

He used the concept of color creating shape to do a public arts project for bus stops. “There are 10 stops. The whole city becomes a gallery. At the end, the story unfolds, but it is always abstract, never literally a story,” he explains.

Right now, he is trying to get a grant for a large installation, an arched-over edifice so large that a person can walk beneath and can become engulfed in its painted color. In addition, he may also be working on another public art project, a highway tunnel. His experience in art and architecture, including public art, propelled him into a volunteer position as part of the selection board for the Broward County Cultural Division for Public Art.  He also does design consultations for architects and did a huge 8 x 8 meter canvas that became part of the stage design for the opening for a classic concert during the Asian Pacific Weeks at the Konzerthaus in Berlin.

Haupt finds comfort in change. “With the global changes going on, we don't know what will happen in the future. Maybe there will be islands here. But maybe there is some beauty in that as well. I talked about that with a class of Urban Planning I was doing and looking at the year 2060. We were supposed to be looking at what was worthwhile to change, sustainability, how does a city adapt, etc., but when you deal with one thing (Urban Planning), you think about the other (Painting).”

it took Haupt awhile to embrace the concept of becoming an artist, gradually studying privately. “I have always been drawing and painting, but was not brave enough to become an artist until later,” he explains. His mother was his initial mentor, as he watched her paint birds and flowers, ceramics and do other arts and crafts.

He reveals a hidden canvas with perfectly aligned outstretched “arms” of color on a darker background. “I always hide this one. I don't like it. It is too pretty and beautiful like too much sugar,” he says, adding that for him painting should be imperfect, not planned, but more of a discovery. “The moment I know how to do it, it becomes boring. There is a relationship between my brushstroke and the painting. I like it when one “successful area” (more perfect zone of the canvas) is in contrast to another less perfect one. It looks like one is fighting the other; the other is more aggressive. I like to throw people off and make people think. A painting is good when I am surprised. If I knew it before, it's not worthwhile doing. Every painting starts out in some way and then it takes off — the same thing with architecture – the design is a baby and then it has needs of its own.”

In contrast to his explorations into the atmospheric realms of color and 3-D projections from color, Haupt also is exploring spaces through harsh lines. His newer drawings use black oil on unforgiving rollers, using black, white and gray. “Each series (three drawings) has one idea. The next day is something different. I make a fake architectural drawing – the perspective is all wrong. It throws people off. I use the figurative lines to show positive and negative. I divide into propositional sections, combined with lines. The shape of the paper defines the drawing.” But the way Haupt uses the color and line either make the canvas shape more visible or diminish it, making the canvas seem bigger than it is.

His advice for newcomers? “Decide to make the space and time for art in your life. Set up the conditions − colors, canvas, brushes, ideas − and follow the rules of the materials. If you want to do it, do it. Start now.”

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