Ira Joel Haber
About the artist
The earliest piece of existing sculpture that I did dates from 1958. I was very young. The piece is made of white interlocking plastic building blocks that always play with. For me it was more than just play. The piece has some similarities to my present concerns. It looks like a building or a structure or a ruin. I glued the individual blocks together. Even at this early stage I was concerned with making a permanent work of art. I found this lost and forgotten piece in 1971 at the home of my parents in a box of old things of mine that my mother had kept for all those years. The piece was broken into four sections, but it was not difficult to repair because the parts fitted together like a puzzle. I remember doing this piece but its a vague memory.
In 1968 I started to fill small black sketchbooks with collages. I thought of them as intimate objects to be looked at by one person at a time. I never ripped out pages. I did these books for about a year when I decided I had accomplished at that time what I wanted to do with collage. In early 1969 I wanted to expand my ideas of collage, to break through the paper and get to the other side. It was at this point that I started my work involving small scale sculpture, miniature environments and landscapes.
My training was in commercial art. I began working in the advertising field in 1966 upon completing a 2 year course at New York City Community College as it was then known. This training was outdated. In any event I had little trouble in finding jobs. However these jobs depended on skills that I really didn’t have, and my heart was not really in the ad game. I wanted to be an artist. At night I took drawing and illustration classes at The School Of Visual Arts, which made me want to be an artist more than ever. Finally in 1967 I stopped working in advertising and from that time on I have devoted my life to being an artist.
Growing up in New York gave me easy access to all the museums and at an early age I started to go to The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum Of Natural History, The MOMA and The Whitney. I was particularly attracted to the large dioramas at the natural history museum, not for the history they told ,but for how they told that history. I was fascinated by the artificial landscapes and how they were made. At the same time I was also seeing the great works of modern art. The one work that stands out as having an impact on me as a child was Ernst’s “Two Children Are Threatened By A Nightingale” which left a lasting impression on me because of Ernst’s use of strange perspective, bright almost acidy coloration and the three-dimensional miniaturization of a gate and house. Some other influences were amusement parks, notably Steeplechase Park, movies, Times Square and the artists Joseph Cornell and Louise Nevelson. Knowing their work from an early age was an education. Seeing what they (and others) had done with assemblage was inspiring and made me realize that although their accomplishments were magnificent, there was still room for an original new voice to be heard.
The first box I did was in 1969 and was made of cardboard which was completely covered with a photographic reproduction of a landscape. Inside the box I placed a cardboard backed cut-out photograph of the artist Toulouse-Lautrec as a child surrounded by his family. Unfortunately part of this box was destroyed. This box was not complicated enough for me and my feelings for the figure was not very strong. The first landscape boxes I did were also done in 1969 and were a series of “New York boxes”. They were small with diorama backgrounds of the city skyline in the 1900’s along with loose material usually gravel or sawdust dyed to represent earth. At the same time I started my pieces involving architecture both in boxes and pieces placed on the floor. My boxes from 1969-1971 usually had neutral landscape photographs as backgrounds. Using these backgrounds allowed me to confuse the perspectives of my landscapes and employ contradictory scale systems both in my boxes and floor pieces. It was also during this period that I actually burned many of the miniature buildings I was using. The interpretations and connotations of this element of my work was usually psychological and secondary to what I was actually doing. Simply put. I was altering, changing and manipulating my found materials as modern artists have done since Cubism. The action was just as important to me as the outcome of the work and the reactions the work would invoke. I think nature has a tendency to reproduce itself in miniature. A twig, a small stone or a puddle of water when separated from its natural environment and isolated can resemble a tree, a boulder or a lake. I find it a little difficult to summarize in this short piece all my feelings and ideas about what I have been doing for the last 43 years.
I want my art to go through slow constant changes, but at the same time I want vast abrupt changes. Nature does the same. Since 1969 I have been making small scale sculptures and miniature environments that have been boxed, floored and walled. Within these small spaces a wide range of images have been constant & consistent. Houses, mountains, trees, bodies of water and land masses. My work over the years has changed, as I’m always experimenting with my language.
In 1970 I showed a piece of mine for the first time in the Whitney Sculpture Annual. Soon after I was asked to join the Fischbach Gallery where I showed from 1971-74. In 1978 I joined the Pam Adler Gallery where I had three shows the last one being in 1982. In the fall of 1991 I was invited to be a guest artist at the 55 Mercer St. Gallery which is a co-op gallery. The exhibition consisted of ten pieces from 1984-1990. This was my last one person exhibition.
Through the years I have been helped by various organizations & foundations that have awarded me grants. Most notable has been the N.E.A. which awarded me grants in 1974, 1977 and 1983. I also received two grants from The Pollock Krasner Foundation in 1986 and 2001 and in 2004 I was awarded a grant from The Gottlieb Foundation.
Since 2006 I have been working on a series of small 7” x 7” x 3” boxes using landscape, nature and architectural elements. These themes have occupied my time and interest since 1969. These new boxes of which there are nine so far are small and densely packed and at the same time because of the size are sparse and minimal in their imagery. Also in 2011-2012 I did a series of 10 wall sculptures or plaques each one measures 6 .” x 6 .” with the overall size variable. They also contain themes and images incorporating elements of nature, landscape and architecture. The other major body of work that I have been doing since 2007 are a series of complex collages that measure and incorporate both 2D and 3D elements.