Looking at the work of sculptor Joop Haring, one is primarily struck by the diversity in forums and his use of many different materials. Haring produces three-dimensional works in ferrous metals, bronze and ceramics, but he also translates his ideas into two-dimensional reliefs and drawings. His working method always begins with a concept, with nature a frequent source of inspiration. Organic growth, structures and (hierarchical) order are key words that frequently return in his work.  

Recent developments in Joop Haring’s work have been closely related to his stays in China and India. His Chinese Table Project, part of which is included in this exhibition, is a good example of the influence of another culture. The series of bronze ‘idea tables’, such as Table of Joy, or Table of Landscape, offers a personal commentary on Chinese culture. The tables were inspired by the Ming and the Qing Manchu dynasties.  

A similar influence is also evident in Haring’s 2008 Lingam Project, begun in southern India and later completed in the Netherlands. It includes a series of tower-like works in which the Lingam (the phallus as a symbol of fertility) is a central focus. These organic, architectural forms present the Lingams as tangible trophies on their ceramic foundations.  

After training at the ArnhemArtAcademy, Joop Haring has worked in Amsterdam since 1984.  

Monumental public works by Joop Haring can be seen in Heemskerk and Huizen (North Holland).  

Haring’s Amsterdam studio can be visited by appointment.

On the Organic and the Mathematical And the Surprise of their Union  

Prehistoric Organisms

In Heemskerk, Holland, stands a sculpture by Joop Haring, bedecked in a three-piece suit of  black and grey. It is called  Scope. The three parts fit together like the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle. If turned around, the smallest segment – still with a diameter of 1.8 metres – would fit into the middle segment. Again rotated, this in turn would fit into the largest, now measuring 4.8 metres in diameter. Constructed from sheet steel, the three are installed along a line, as extensions of one another. In their ‘scope’, in a green park, is the centre of the town of Heemskerk. This clarifies the choice of colours: black makes way for dark grey, and this in turn to a lighter grey. The light colour is enticing. The alluring strength of the forms can best be experienced on location: the largest section takes a step forward, on the diagonal, and takes over a portion of the space. Its example is followed by the middle section. It is a dynamic march of two colossal, prehistoric organisms, with the smallest of the three segments serving as point of rest. 

The association with prehistoric organisms is not strange when we look at another work by Haring, a sculpture in wood, completed in 1998. It comprises six parts that arch around a centre, and whose waving forms closely fit together intimately, into one. The viewer is almost obliged to think of a curled-up mollusc, all of whose parts take the best possible advantage of the available space. Indeed, from a limited edition artist’s book by Haring,  'Scope': Public Sculpture Commission along the Baandert in Heemskerk, it appears that Scope does indeed refer back to the ammonite. 

The ammonite is a mollusc, a cephalopod, that builds a circular calcareous shell. During the Jura and the Cretaceous, its rolled-up habitat developed increasingly richer and more complex forms. Today, the fossils of these ammonites, ranging from extremely minute to up to two metres across, help palaeontologists date the surrounding stone. It is the clear yellow colour of the 1998 work that distinguishes it from its organic origins and establishes it squarely in the domain of art. So too do the colours of Scope, from black through grey, differentiate it from its green surroundings. Through the contrast, it defines itself in its own autonomy. 

Scope also had a predecessor in the monumental, five-part work, The Similarity, completed in 1997. The annual growth rings of trees lent a hand in the origins of this sculpture. Made of wood, after two outdoor exhibitions, it has since honourably succumbed to the influence of the seasons. In its turn, The Similarity had a forerunner in a stimulating, untitled sculpture completed in 1992, made of bronze, aluminium cement and copper. With a diameter of 1.1m and with its substantial artistic significance for the work of Joop Haring – it was intriguingly able to combine the organic with the mathematical – it was intended for a museum collection. Instead, it was purchased by Pim Fortuyn and thus disappeared into the quiet environs of a noisy political figure.

How the Organic and the Mathematical are Brought Together

In the background of Joop Haring’s work, the rings of a tree and ammonites from the Jura or Cretaceous took on a relationship with one another that always led to being more or less circular in form. But there are other forms of life that excite him: the new growths on a desert cactus that demonstrate how the form and the characteristics of the larger plant are all completely present in the small section. According to the artist, this system of reproduction and repetition can be represented in exemplary fashion by a mathematical character. Both the organic form and the mathematical go back to the same source, to organic life. 

The things that intrigue Joop Haring also include the dividing of the continents, or the creation of a new island, as a result, for example, of volcanic eruptions. The volcanic island of Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands west of the Sahara, is an example. Its inhabitants managed to cultivate wine in the lava, thanks to the night-time drop in temperature and the dew it produces. Continents that were once a single land mass being riven apart and dark lava ground led the artist to develop the forms of The Connection.

This work, realized in wood, presents two organic forms in black graphite, forms that one could also imagine as land masses. They are bound together by a mathematical form in gold leaf. The connecting link lies reflected in the dark lands. This mirror motif can be found in more of Joop Haring’s work. It is the strength of the golden figure that brings – to their outermost limits – the two darker forms of The Connection to life. So it appears from this concrete work of art that the two modes, the organic and the mathematical, exert a positive influence on one another. 

The Power of the Imperfect

In Arizona, in 1998, Joop Haring discovered what an exceptional thing the cactus can be. He then began growing the plants himself and continued to be amazed that a minuscule new growth embraces all the form and characteristics of the mother plant. Following the lead of the cactus, a series of open sculptures ensued, as well as a cycle of closed or contained works. As a hands-on extension of the process of creation, in 2003, he cast the closed works himself in bronze. These contained sculptures also evoke associations with boulders formed by nature. They have in common their more or less oval mass, although none of the sculptures is in fact a pure oval. Their organic source is clear in their imperfect symmetry, and it is the imperfect three-dimensionality of the form that touches us. Three of these pieces are crowned with a small garland of spheres, a merry, somewhat puzzling crest, filled with promise. Three other works have a crown in the form of a vegetative head, eccentrically placed. New growths tickle in the neck or lurk against the foot of the sculpture. The young seeking safety with the mother? A vision of fertility? In any case, they are an ode  to life and all the myriad forms it takes. The titles chosen by the artist for these works – Partner and Together, for example – all hold a promise of shelter and intimacy. 

Two Tree Sculptures, Sacral and Introverted

Two tree sculptures, each about 70 centimetres high, were completed in 2004. Celebration Tree asks to be at the centre of a space with no other accent in it, only silence. Protected Corner Tree is built in such a way that the primary thing the sculpture does  is undertake a relationship with a corner. Both works, also cast by the artist, are one-of-a-kind. The idea for Celebration Tree was initially born in South India. There is a Hindu temple dating from 1010 in Thanjavur, the Brihadishwara temple. When there, Joop Haring was very impressed by a monumental sculpture of a goddess, made of black granite. The goddess wore a necklace of flowers around her neck, reaching to her waist. Perhaps the long series of linghams, symbols of fertility, in that same temple, were even more impressive. In all their sober monumentality, the linghams, in this case short vertical columns with no structural or architectural function, located in a half-open gallery, could make their own contribution to the emergence of the two bronze trees. 

The recollections of his time in South India also included a festive funeral for an old woman, whose participants had draped themselves with huge wreaths of flowers. The celebrative character of the funeral was motivated by the thought that the woman had passed into a better life. As the tree trunk stands, it is indeed cut off at the top, but the way this has been done suggests not tragedy, but harmony. A string of beads surrounds the entire body. The beads, of uneven sizes, are formed of fired and white clay. The third colour, earnest black, is reminiscent of the graphite in The Connection and its natural colour comes from clay slip. No colour is used that is not produced by the clay itself. Both festive and reserved, and with its message of life and death, Celebration Tree is a sacral image. 

Although Protected Corner Tree was realized in more or less the same period, and in form is related to Celebration Tree, the sculpture is of quite a different character. Seeing it in an open space, we realize that it is directed towards the corner, diagonally seeking support. Placed in the middle of an open space, it cannot convey its message. The nature of this directionality is quite unlike that of the Corner Reliefs that Vladimir Tatlin made in 1914-1915, which express a theoretical sense of triumph. Protected Corner Tree arose out of an intuitive search. In continuing the large motion of the sculpture, the roots of the 2004 work are the farthest removed from the core of the image and create a relationship with open space. Above and below, the tree repeats the waving gesture, but with greater reserve. Do these roots convey a memory of a giant banyan tree in South India, which seems to be standing on its bundles of aerial roots? Compared to the power of the downward reach of the mass of aerial roots, the branches above are thin and meagre, as though the essence of the tree were centred in the trunk and its mantle sweeping to the ground. Did this phenomenon offer a creative suggestion to Joop Haring ? 

The crown is comprised of white, ceramic orbs of varying size. Like the torso of the sculpture,  it too seeks out the corner. Protection and intimacy are what they seem in need of, just like the spheres of the bronzes completed in 2003. Their inward motion, aimed at the core of the sculpture, emphatically introspective, forms the counterpoint of the bundle of roots on the floor, with its humour and its expansiveness. 

Two-Dimensional Work

Joop Haring likes to use pigments in his three-dimensional work, so it will not be surprising to learn that he also works with the two-dimensional plane, where colour holds the upper hand. From time to time, he has made woodcuts. The series’ of woodcuts completed in 2003 and 2004 are closely related. There is a kinship with Celebration Tree and Protected Corner Tree, with their ceramic beading, as well as with the crown of spheres from the bronze sculptures completed in 2003. 

The woodcuts are of series’ of stones in varying colours. They are images of routes, created naturally, because when given a choice amongst several options, people are inclined to select the most efficient path. Tracks like these can be viewed as paths of life, and the intersection of the circles in the woodcut as the intersecting of one another’s paths. Natural Inconsequence (2003) and Inner Circle (2004) both possess a clear simplicity, imbued with the light burden of a modest symbolism. 

In addition to his woodcuts, Joop Haring also works with pastels. What is unusual about his pastels is the intensity of the pigments with which they are realized. One of his most successful works made with this technique is Indian Backyard, which dates from the beginning of the decade covered by this book.

With an unusual format of 50 x 140 cm, Indian Backyard was completed in 1995. Here, four different image layers work together in concerted harmony. The dark branches appear  in the first layer. Green triangular forms connect with the branches, growing progressively lighter towards the centre. Together they create the third layer of the image, the oval leaves of water lilies, perceived as negative white space. In front of all this wealth of organic life now slide mathematical rectangles, comprising the fourth and final layer of Indian Backyard. The rectangles must not, according to Haring, be seen as a contradiction to organic life. All of the rectangles are incomplete, implying that they do not divorce themselves from the underlying image layers. They too grow ever lighter towards the centre, like the green forms. Where they are lightest, the ochre-gold square appears, which because of its size, location and colour, dominates the whole. On the one hand, the rectangles offer a beneficent and rational handhold in terms of the perceptible reality of this pastel drawing. On the other, there is a fundamental contradiction between the organic and the mathematical realities.  The contrast between the two is embraced in a mysterious union.