Sunday, May 27, 2001

Painter likes to fool the eye


Haas's downtown mural shows his work can make you see things you really don't see

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Like Kroger's “Cincinnatus” mural, all pieces in the book are in the trompe l'oeil style — a French phrase meaning, roughly, fool the eye. It's a style of painting that incorporates photographic realism and tricks with perspective to alter the viewer's perception.

        Mr. Haas, 64, isn't crazy about the term, worrying that it's stereotyped, trivialized and misunderstood. He prefers quadratura painting, which he describes as “illusionist decoration painted on walls and/or ceilings that appears to be an extension of the actual architecture.”

        The style had its roots in ancient Rome, flowered in the Renaissance and today causes double-takes on Central Parkway.

        “That one was a fun project,” he says. “I think it took a crew of four about four months to get it finished. Most all of my projects take between six months and a year from when I submit the design to actual realization.”
       

On to new things
               Right now, he's busy realizing two projects: eight indoor murals for the Nashville Library in a building designed by Robert A.M. Stern, and two murals going up in St. Joseph, Mich., depicting the history of the city.

        The way the process usually works is a company contacts Mr. Haas. He studies the site, then presents an idea. If the client likes it, Mr. Haas does elaborate mockettes or scale drawings, then hires artists to execute the design in Keim,a durable German silicate.

        “The scene is always my choice,” he says. “They present the wall, I present the art. There have been only a few times I've wanted to do something and couldn't.”

        That would be “Shadows,” a project he designed for a New York City building, where he wanted to paint the shadow of a long demolished building on the wall. A little piece of history lurking in the shadows.

        “I want to do more of them, but I think they're too subtle,” Mr. Haas says. “It's hard to find someone who wants that kind of thing. Most people prefer a more dramatic piece.”

        Such as his 5,850-square-foot Kroger mural, which gets two full pages in Canvas. The book contains dreary, black-and-white before-shots that shout urban blight and contrasts them with brilliantly colored after-shots that turn the streetscape into a sort of art gallery.

        It's a low maintenance art gallery at that. Kroger spokesman Gary Rhodes says it has required only an occasional touch-up over the past decade.

        Mr. Haas says people seem to like the “drama” he used in the “Cincinnatus” mural.

        “Although sometimes I think people take the art for granted,” he says. “You pass it every day and after a while, I don't think you see it anymore.”

        When they do see it, they're seeing what he calls a reinvention. His ambition growing up was to be an architect, but the heavy duty math courses scared him away.

        “Now I have the best of both worlds, art and architecture,” Mr. Haas says. “I manage to circumvent the more tedious, less glamorous aspects of architecture, but I still get to reinvent the building.”
       

Dramatic effects
               Some of those reinventions are, well, pretty dramatic. The one he did for the Edison Brothers Building in St. Louis, for example, is 110,000 square feet and takes up two city blocks. The Milk Street mural in Boston is painted with girders, a construction elevator and bricks only halfway up the wall, making it look for all the world like it's still under construction.

        The one he did for the Fountainbleau Hotel, sitting smack on Collins Avenue, the main drag through Miami, is an Art Deco version of Paris' Arc de Triomphe.

        “That one, Collins Avenue, might get 500,000 people in three days, I don't know. Collins is pretty darn busy,” he says.

        Yeah, but the people can't gawk while spilling beer and eating shrimp.

       



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