Harrison Haynes, "Untitled (JB Facing JB)," 2009. Archival pigment print, 14.25" x 21.5." Edition of 3 (+2 AP's). Courtesy the artist.
Lump is to some degree the basis or the foundation for my entire practice in that it sort of set forth this really ambitious notion for me in 1997 about the existence of contemporary art in NC… Bill (Thelen) and Lump Projects are this insidious yet really quiet presence… Lump is always there but always presenting these really ahead-of-their time pairings and conversations and shows… I can’t say enough about Bill Thelen in terms of his influence on me and my wife and in general the whole artistic community of the Triangle that I aspire to be a part of.
I asked Haynes about the particularities of locating a practice in the South.
99% of my schoolmates here at Bard all live in the city — in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan. Since it’s such a tight-knit community, the question of why I don’t live in NY comes up constantly. It can sort of wear on you… it’s really in some ways a limiting question, a question whose very existence seems to sort of presuppose there’s something wrong with that! I try not to be defensive about it; quite the opposite, actually… my wife and I are kind of like the NC chamber of commerce; we’re constantly pumping it up and telling people why it’s so awesome to live there.
(Haynes is married to independent curator and art advisor Chloë Seymore, with whom he founded Branch Gallery in Carrboro in 2003).
Haynes grew up in North Carolina and spent formative years here playing in punk rock bands. Wanderlust took him to the Northeast, where he studied painting at RISD in the mid-nineties. Haynes returned to the Triangle briefly after graduating, about the same time Lump would open in Raleigh. Then, a musical opportunity he couldn’t decline came his way in 1999 when Les Savy Fav asked him to be their drummer. He joined the band in Brooklyn and ended up spending the next several years there. Eventually, he told me,
My wife and I started having this conversation about New York’s limitations in terms of quality of life, and we started talking about moving… North Carolina was a place I’d never lost touch with… I’d always been really close to my family, and friends had either come back or stayed there… The question became how to move back and still participate in the kind of artistic, creative community we’d had in NY. A big part of that was starting Branch Gallery —which was predominantly my wife’s project — in Carrboro.
Lump was an inspiration and guiding light for Haynes and Seymore as they moved towards opening their own space in North Carolina. “The idea that we could do something like I’d seen in Lump in 1997, something anomalous, had so much potential,” Haynes told Brian Howe in 2007. “We went by Lump and talked to Bill, and on that same trip we saw the building for sale on Weaver Street. It all came together in a month.”
The gallery project provided “the chassis or structure on which we were able to come back and start this project we felt was ambitious and creative… and a way we could find our footing in the community.” Branch, like Lump, focused on bringing forward-thinking work to NC, and frequently exhibiting the work of local artists alongside. In that interview with Howe in 2007 — a few years into the Branch project — Haynes reflected: “I have been really surprised by the willingness of artists to come somewhere this remote.…”Some people ask, ‘Why Durham?’ But I love that. I love the idea of this satellite community, and this whole area has such a strong foundation for fine contemporary art. I love saying, ‘Why not Durham?’”
When Haynes decided to return to school, he and Seymore had to reaffirm their choice to stay in Durham. Many of the same factors that brought them to North Carolina in 2003 convinced them this was still the right place to be. “It was an important milestone to make the decision to stay; though now that the gallery’s not there, there’s a new question of ‘what’s our role in NC, what’s our position…’” Addressing this is a point of emphasis for Haynes. He seems to be finding an answer in a renewed focus on his studio practice, which had been somewhat at odds with his involvement in the gallery through the mid-00s. He’s reacquainting himself with his peers on his own terms, and reconsidering his work in light of its relationship to the South.
“Interestingly enough, the subject matter of NC — particularly my pre-adult years and experiences — is really coming to the surface in a big way, but my approach feels different and freer, and seems to have more possibility to exist on it’s own… it’s not quite as nostalgic, specific and illustrative as my earlier work.” His new work explores an almost sculptural side to his photographic process based in observation of the component objects of his specific environs. In these new pieces, Haynes employs photographic prints “posing as artifacts” in abstract installation scenarios. When we spoke, he was visibly excited about the promise this direction seems to hold for a new manner of engagement with his music practice — a parallel track that has somehow tended to remain sequestered from Haynes’ visual work.