I started painting digitally in the 1990’s. I published some of these paintings in 2 books that I distributed to my collectors. I had no way to sell these works in those days except to create a print and this was not feasible in the market of the time. Now 25 years later we have the blockchain and its possible to record the provenance and control edition size, and I am able to create and present digital paintings as NFT’s.
One of the books which I published in 1998 was called “16 Computer Paintings”. Here is a facsimile of that book. The only change I made was remove information about my children. This book gives a glimpse at my earliest digital artwork.
We are brutally naked beasts with moments of peace and romantic love. We are pelted by the elements of nature and society. I make art in an orgasmic state, drunk with freedom. I feel and I act without consideration, without safety or pauses to reflect on the reception or lack of it. With the overwhelming charge of freedom, all insecurities are swallowed up by my thirst to go forward.
I was born on Riverside Drive in Manhattan in 1953. Shortly after I was four years old, my family moved to the Marble Hill section of the Bronx. My father, Simon Hafftka, and mother, Eva Hershko, were both refugees from Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. Much of my understanding of the world came from my perception of my parents’ wartime experiences. Among the host of determining factors and experiences that were later brought to bear on my becoming an artist was a strong desire for freedom.
I went to public school and Yeshiva for a short time and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High school in 1971. At the time of my graduation, I already knew I was an artist though I had not accomplished anything tangible and still had not found my medium. My mother died in 1971, and I went to Budapest (on the earnings I made working in a bike shop and as a sales clerk in an Army & Navy store) to meet my maternal grandmother whom I had just discovered was still alive. My grandmother didn’t speak Modern English; she spoke to me in the English she learned, which was Shakespearean. It was linguistically a funny and poetic experience.
I did not want to go to Vietnam. I had been turned down as a Conscientious Objector, but being number 13 in the draft lottery, I was sure I would be drafted. Luckily the draft ended the year I could be called. On the way back from Budapest, I went to Barcelona and lived like a hobo for several months. I was deeply moved by all the art and architecture I saw. The buildings of Gaudi especially struck me. When the draft ended, I came back to the United States. In New York, I often went to the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I made money peddling jewelry in front of Bloomingdale’s and peddling my own photographs in front of the Met. I had been also working in a camera shop. In 1972, I went back to Barcelona for six months. In Barcelona, I wrote poetry and observed a foreign land with a childish freedom that came from not knowing the native language.
When I returned to New York, I continued to peddle and in 1973, when the Yom Kippur War broke out, I decided to volunteer to work on a Kibbutz in Israel. To get the fare, I sold my camera to pay for half of the fare. The Jewish Agency of the State of Israel paid for the other half after I agreed to work for at least one year.
When I arrived I chose Kibbutz Afikim in the Jordan Valley, by sticking a pin in a map. The weather was hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. I didn’t sleep, I dreamt. I was delirious every night in the beginning. I developed dysentery and took paregoric opium and this added to my visionary experiences. I had a continuum of dreams that went on for several years. The dreams were often connected. They were mystical and visual in such an intense and flexible form, I felt as if my soul was being informed. This has been the root of my Art. I began to write down my dreams but the writing of them was inadequate to express them. This is when I gave up poetry, writing and conceptual art (which had taken the form of peeling tomatoes, drying the skins and colléing them to paper). I began to paint my dreams and soon enough the experience of painting brought on exciting and mysterious experiences, as suggestive as dreaming. I felt freer than I had ever felt before. Painting became revelatory.
In the center of the kibbutz was a water tower, it was the tallest structure in the area, I climbed it and made a studio in a room under the water tank. I met my wife, Yonat, at the Kibbutz and after a year we moved to Hertzelia where we lived in a shack in the middle of an orchard just a short walk away from the Mediterranean Sea. I would arise in the morning, pluck the fruit from a tree, swim and paint day and night. Though I was well liked by everybody there was no support for my painting except from Yonat. Yonat was very helpful and believed in me. She saw in my paintings something unique and powerful and I am always thankful for that. We decided to move to New York where I could pursue a career. I did not make a single sale or receive an offer for a show until 1976 when on the suggestion of Ivan Karp of OK Harris; I was invited to show in the artist owned gallery, Rabinowitch and Guerra. We supported ourselves by my doing paste-up mechanical work and truck driving and by Yonat baby-sitting and working in a factory. We were a long way from the orchard.
I met Michael Rolloff, the publisher of Urizen books, and he hired me to do book covers for two of Michael Brodsky’s novels. (Michael Roloff was the translator of Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, which I had greatly admired for many years). At the publication party for Mr. Brodsky, Kevin Begos approached me and told me he would like to publish a book of my drawings. "Michael Hafftka Selected Drawings" was published in 1982. He also published the pamphlet "Art of Experience Experience of Art" in 1982. This book was a strong response to what I saw around me in the galleries and to my continual rejection from exhibitions. I was a very angry young man.
Barbara Flynn of Art Galaxy bought the drawing book and offered me my first one-person show. Five of the seven paintings were sold to prominent collectors. They were my first sales. After that, I showed at Rosa Esman Gallery in New York and eventually in galleries in Europe and Japan and throughout the United States. My work was acquired by MOMA and hung for a time, also by the Met, the Carnegie Institute and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I also had a show at Carnegie Mellon with a catalogue essay by John Caldwell, who at the time was the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Carnegie Institute. John Caldwell was a close friend up until his untimely death in 1993.
I continued to paint from my dreams and visions and to paint portraits of my friends (although there was no attempt at creating a visual resemblance). I was after a spiritual realism and I felt I was on the right track toward achieving my desires. All the while, painting for me was in itself a guiding light. Wherever the work led me I would follow. It was in this manner that I began to explore both the subject matter and the substance of paint. By 1987, I had developed a very clear and distinct vision. I began to paint a group of works that culminated in my painting "Ceremony." This group of paintings was shown at DiLaurenti Gallery in Soho. Sam Hunter wrote the catalogue introduction.
In 198█ my son ███, was born in my studio. In 198█ my second son, ████, also in my studio. In the same year Aberbach Fine Art began to represent my work and this was an enjoyable and profitable relationship. Jean Aberbach showed my work in a one-person exhibition at the Art Cologne International in 1991.
I began to work more directly from life and embraced realism and observation. This was a direct response to having children. I was fascinated with using all that I saw on the outside to convey inner psyche. Regrettably, Mr. Aberbach died in 1992, and since then I haven’t been affiliated with a gallery in New York. In 199█, my daughter, ███ was born (in my studio). In 1995 when I turned 40, I had a strong vision and this culminated in the painting "40 Years." I gave up realism, except for the occasional commissioned portrait, to work exclusively from my inner visions.
In 1995 I decided to buy a computer for my children, mostly because everyone said children that are not computer literate have no future. Knowing nothing about computers and being a home-schooling parent I went to Staples and bought what looked like the easiest thing to set up. My main concern was that everything I needed would be in one box. I bought a Macintosh Performa. The experience of taking it out of the box with my kids was exciting but unfortunately disappointing. It came bundled with crap software and didn’t have a modem. The computer sat around collecting dust until a young kid from France, visited my studio on the recommendation of a collector from Paris. He is a total Mac head and when he saw the computer he excitedly told me that I could paint with it. I showed him a few primitive drawings that I made in Claris works and he said that on his next trip to New York he would bring his computer and introduce me to some drawing and painting programs.
The next time he came straight from the airport, he took his PowerMac 8500/120, which was blazingly fast and impressive to me, and dismantled it. He then opened up the Performa and hooked his HD to it. All this ripping apart of the computer and switching components was pretty amazing to me. It gave me a clear understanding that the computer was an instrument, like a tube of paint or a brush, and even a novice could become familiar with its technology.
I became obsessed with the computer; I began to dream about the GUI every night. My dreams took the form of opening windows and filters and distortions of photoshop. I swam in the interface. I began to experiment with many programs and different operating systems. We bought a Wintel box but I soon developed a strong dislike for Windows 95. Even though the Compaq was faster than the Performa I preferred the MacOS. The kids also preferred the Mac and before long we got two very fast Macs.
Just as with traditional mediums it is not interesting for me to talk about the materials. Principally I am using a graphics tablet, Painter and Photoshop on MacOS environment. I would like to be able to use a larger than life screen to paint directly on, in 3 dimensions, and record. I could edit the recording and replay it as a visual animation on a screen a little larger than life size. The animation, its timing and speed, would be an intelligent response to the viewer’s movements and actions and, networked to the web, it would also be determined by the weather and time of day.