John Haley

artist artwork
John Haley (1905 - 1991)

A feature of the artwork of John Charles Haley is diversity. Through his continual exploration of divergent styles and media his artwork remained wonderfully fresh and innovative. Naturally, several labels were attributed to his work - figurative, modernist, abstract expressionist - all of which displeased Haley. At the same time, he was lauded as "one of those who have brought West Coast painting to maturity." A native of Minnesota, Haley initially studied at the Minneapolis School of Art where he received training in the academic manner. An astute and talented student, he received an award that enabled him to study in Munich with the German modernist master, Hans Hofmann. Haley quickly absorbed the master's cubist forms, soon establishing himself as one of Hofmann's most outstanding students.

By 1930, Haley was hired as art instructor at the University of California at Berkeley where he became distinguished for promoting Hofmann's modernist ideas. Alfred Frankenstein, who organized John Haley's solo show at the de Young Museum in 1980, described Haley as the "principal cornerstone of the Berkeley School of Watercolor Painting" - referring to a style founded by Haley during the 1930s. Haley is credited with building one of the strongest art departments in the country at the University of California at Berkeley and influencing generations of artists such as Elmer Bischoff, Paul Wonner and Stephen de Staebler. Haley won numerous awards and prizes for watercolors painted during his early career. With the advent of Surrealism and Abstraction during the post-war years - when many figurative artists were left dangling - Haley promptly responded to this new aesthetic. He reconsidered his figural themes during a five year period of experimentation; from this period - as his images of the figure became increasingly fragmented and abstracted - Haley produced some of the most pivotal works of his career.

While Haley avoided self-promotion and his work often defied classification, critics cited comparisons to Guston, Dufy and Cezanne. Critic John Koplans has most appropriately described in Artforum, July, 1962: "What is enjoyable about Haley's work is his deep concern for painting rather than a search for a brand image." Art was a personal expression for him. His philosophy is perhaps best stated in The Daily Californian in 1933, "Modern art is not a quarrel with tradition. It is tradition expressing itself in a new way." Through tireless exploration, Haley maintained a fresh vision and response to art through change.