When parents take their children to Washington, D.C., or New York City, it’s often to visit the Smithsonian or gaze from the top of the Empire State Building, but when Upper School photography teacher Harrison Haynes’ parents took him, it was to see art.
“I would attribute that 100% to the kind of cultural environment that my parents brought me up in … this environment of the magic and the wonder of art images, and not just complacently seeing them but going to see them in person and knowing how they're made.”
His mother and father are both “huge consumers of art images and museums, and they took me to D.C. and New York as a young child. They had friends who were artists, photographers … I was also exposed to a lot of music, because my parents were part of a social group that went to see a lot of bands and some were in bands.” Haynes’ father taught animation at UNC-Chapel Hill and his father was also a drummer.
His experiences with art and music planted a seed that flourished in Haynes, who earned a B.F.A. in painting from Rhode Island School of Design and an M.F.A. in photography from Bard College, played drums with Les Savy Fav and appeared with the band recently on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Haynes was 11 when he started taking drum lessons. By junior high he had formed a band, Hellbender, with his two best friends and by high school the band was recording albums and touring.
When it came time for college, he chose Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the country’s top art schools. “I didn't know that I wanted to be a professional artist or anything like that, but I knew that art was a huge part of my being and I loved to draw.” A career as a draftsman or an illustrator might be an option.
In Haynes’ first year at RISD he realized that painting was “a way to capitalize on my ability as an artist, to learn something new. … I became much more interested in, steeped in this notion of fine art and personal art and expressive art. And probably much to the chagrin of my parents, I veered away from the commodity, lucrative side of things. Probably, that was a bit of coolness or rebellion. We all had this ridiculous notion of the autonomous artist in the big loft studio and all that.”
Music continued to be an important part of Haynes’ life. He took a semester off to tour with his band, and after graduation he moved to Portland, Oregon, with the band and toured. “I would come back and do art and go do music and back and forth. That's a pattern that still exists today.”
With a move back east, Haynes was living in Durham, working in a restaurant, working in a frame shop, painting as much as he possibly could and exhibiting in restaurants and cafes.
“My first band was starting to break up, and a band that I had gone to college with — Les Savy Fav, that already existed — was losing their drummer. They called me and said will you move to New York and be our drummer. Without a second thought, I packed up and moved to New York City and became the drummer for this band that already had a lot of momentum, had a booking agent, had an album out already and a little bit of a following. From 1999 to 2004, I lived in New York City and mostly just toured with the band around the world.”
Art continued to be part of his life. Frustrated by an increasingly expensive New York City, Haynes and his wife, Chloe, moved to Chapel Hill and Durham for her to open an art gallery.
“I was still touring with the band a lot. I was traveling from here as a base instead of traveling from New York. … I was also traveling with my wife in the context of the gallery, and I started to become more immersed back into the art world at that time.”
Haynes missed producing his own art and decided to attend graduate school in photography.
“I suddenly realized that I actually knew quite a lot about photography. I had been making photographs in different ways my whole life.”
Bard’s graduate photography program was a residency program, so Haynes could live in North Carolina and immerse himself in the Bard program in New York each summer. “All of the faculty are practicing artists that moonlight as teachers in the summer and some of them also teach during the academic year. … I started to understand how teaching works for an artist and how that's possible.
“Bard is a critique-based program, which means that you're making work, but you're also talking about your work and explaining your work to people face-to-face all day long, all summer, for three weeks in a row, all different kinds of people. It really refines your abilities verbally and interpersonally, which then ended up being incredibly applicable skills for teaching.”
A job opened up at Durham Academy the week after Haynes graduated from Bard. After interviewing for the photography position, he realized DA was a school “that was resourced in a way that I hadn't imagined and would allow me to teach at a level that I hadn't imagined would be possible. And the calendar, suddenly I would be able to make work in the summer and be in my studio.”
He has been at DA since 2012, and “the school has always been unbelievably supportive of me, as an artist and a teacher.”
Haynes is this year’s recipient of the faculty sabbatical award for the spring semester, and this marks the first time he will have the luxury of working in his studio without also working a part-time job.
He has a studio at his home, and “being in the studio every single day is part of being an artist. I'm always quick to dispel the myth that artists just wait for inspiration and then make the thing after they're inspired. You have to just be making the work every single day.”
Haynes is excited that his son, Roan, a DA third-grader, will grow up “knowing that I make things and how I make things and have that be a part of the fabric of our lives.”
He will work on two discrete projects this spring: helping to produce a book of his artwork and refining Break Beat, a 8-foot x 12-foot installation that was part of the Nasher Museum of Art exhibit “Across County Lines: Contemporary Photography from the Piedmont.”
Haynes describes Break Beat as “essentially a gigantic collage. It's a number of objects that have been photographed and printed at a large size. … I made photographic prints of those objects on paper. But instead of framing them, I cut out around the edges of each of those things. I cut out with scissors and an Exacto knife around the edges of each spiky point of the palmetto leaf, and then around the contours of the drums. You end up with this kind of trompe l'oeil thing because it's cut out around the edges. It looks real, but it's a piece of paper. There was nothing three dimensional in that at all.”
The photographic prints in Break Beat were magnetized and attached to metal strips on a wood frame that sits about a foot off the wall. Haynes wants to continue to refine that display system so the artwork could be assembled and disassembled by a collector. “I want to figure out a way for you to buy the pieces and reassemble it like an IKEA thing, except it’s my art. I'm interested in the sculptural aspects of how that works.”
Haynes will be drawing and making photography every day, and reconnecting with curators, gallerists and exhibitors while he is on sabbatical.
“Really my end game, my goal, my aspiration is to exhibit my work more. That's what makes the work meaningful to me — for people to see it and respond to it and to have visceral experiences with my work.”