The Astonishing Sculptures of a Reformed Hollywood Director
Astonishing is the right word for this art work that can be found in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Sculptor Philip Haas has made a five meter high fiberglass sculptor that he has called, Winter. It is one of a series of four sculptures that Haas says he was inspired by the Renaissance artist, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Four Seasons series of paintings. Arcimboldo was the Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books.
Haas was the director of a number of notable films such as the romantic dramas Angels and Insects (1995) and Up at the Villa (2000). But then in 2006 after directing his feature film, The Situation (starring Homeland’s Damian Lewis), about the Iraq occupation, he left Hollywood to become a full-time artist. Hass explains, “I’m now describing myself as a recovering film director,” coming full circle as he began his film career directing documentaries that spotlight artists.
Seen here is just one of his series of four sculptures of a series Haas too, calls Four Seasons. Arcimboldo’s paintings were the inspiration for the four Haas sculptures, all four of which were done in profile. Each portrait was transformed into three dimensions on a grand scale, which required continuing Arcimboldo vision to areas not seen on the canvases. “We changed the medium. It’s interesting that when all the art historians arrive to look at the sculptures they are coming not to look at the profiles that they know, but are asking ‘What does the back of the head look like,’” he says.
The director and comedian Mel Brooks, whose late wife Anne Bancroft starred in Up at the Villa, is a fan of the work. “They are incredible and so powerful and so damned interesting. I’ve never seen creatures quite like them,” he says. Brooks says he understands why Haas was drawn to move away from Hollywood.
“In a way, Philip is kind of an artist who doesn’t want to be interfered with. He knows what he wants and it’s easier to get it in these amazing sculptures than it is in a movie and I guess it’s much more emotionally fulfilling. He’s just sharing his vision with the world and not with the actors, not with the crew, not with the craft services people, with everybody you have to share the adventure with.”
The colossal size of Haas's sculpture accentuates the visual puzzle of natural forms—flowers, ivy, moss, fungi, vegetables, fruit, trees, bark, branches, twigs, leaves—as they are recycled to form four human portraits, each representing an individual season. The result is at once earthy, fanciful and exuberant—a commentary on Arcimboldo's style and a work of art in its own right. These sculptures were first seen in the garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in the United Kingdom in the summer of 2012, before embarking on a three-year tour of American museums and botanical gardens.
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