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I Chilled with an Artist Who Burns Old Works to Make New Ones

New York-based artist Greg Haberny's practice is on fire (literally).

Recently I visited studio of New York-based artist Greg Haberny to see how he burns his old artworks and creates new ones from the ashes. Haberny, a New York-based artist, is deeply attracted to the idea of using destruction to constructive ends. Currently, you can see his work at Py•r•o·glyph•s, an ongoing exhibition at the Catinca Tabacaru Gallery.

When I visit, the Haberny studio is in absolute chaos, but in a strangely beautiful and organized way. His approach to creation is less out of a love for fire than it is for reincarnation. He destroys, guts, glues, staples, shoots, burns, deconstructs, dismantles, and blows things up in order to achieve new levels of the sublime.

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He integrates every component of existing paintings and sculptures into his processes, from paper towels to frames and bits of chainsaw. Haberny makes a work of pottery, like the Joan Mitchell piece in the show, for instance, by smashing existing potteries, taking the dust, and reassembling all the pieces back together again.

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Haberny showed me the steps he takes towards creating his work. Everything begins with the chainsaw. Then, he burns the results into ashes. These are then mashed with a weight in order to produce a kind of watercolor pigment. Finally, Haberny uses only his fingers, intentionally avoiding brushes. “I like the primer feel,” he tells me.

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Though the approach may seem rash, Haberny does have feelings towards certain pieces. “I am attached to some of the works and I would lie if I would say that it is not an emotional moment for me to pull them down. [But] in order to get to the next level, you should get rid of everything,” Haberny explains.

The show itself expresses Haberny’s idea that his works are not about a love for destruction; the floor of the gallery is peppered with white flowers. At the same time, the series of smashed and recreated potteries show clearly the power of reincarnation, the necessity for his canvases being covered in his previous works.

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Greg Haberny’s Py•r•o·glyph•s is on display through November 20, 2016. Click here to learn more.

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