Written by: J.L. Sirisuk
One of New York’s Finest – From New York to Singapore, Italy, London, and more, the provocative work of artist Harif Guzman has been exhibited worldwide. Inaugurating his career through street art, Guzman slapped his name on New York streets while working under the alter ego “Haculla.” The artist’s work has since evolved into the sphere of contemporary art and whether painting on canvases or walls, Guzman’s work – notorious for its witty, cultural critiques – investigates subjects including popular culture, women, and materialism. Moving to New York from Venezuela as a child, he witnessed the subversive origins of New York art during a time when divergent threads of culture came together to shape a legendary artistic climate. Currently, through his work with the Soho Arts Club, Guzman is preserving the roots of New York’s creative heyday, harkening to a time of rebellious spirit and community to foster an environment of support. Through the Arts Club, Guzman is promoting the talents of rising artists and offers a unique space for growth and expression. We recently sat down with the artist at his Bowery studio for a chat.
JLS: I know you moved to New York from Venezuela as a child. What are some early memories?
HG: I came on a Pan Am flight. I remember being cold when I got here. I remember being hungry and they took me to Mcdonald’s. My dad worked at a print shop on Hudson, so my first memories are mostly Canal Street, the Army & Navy store that used to be on Canal, the West Village – just walking around, riding my bike – like not being able to ride my bike past the block. I was only allowed to go to the end of the block because it was sketchy.
JLS: I read that you kept a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in your pocket. Is that where your “Haculla” moniker came from?
HG: It was a DVD. I was going through some stuff, some heartache breaking up with this girl in San Francisco at the time. It was that age when you’re like 22 or 23, and you’re trying to figure it out. I landed in New York and was obsessed with that story, and everyone called me “Ha” because it’s short for Harif, so I used to write “Ha” in the street with these faces. I didn’t have a studio, so I’d just paint in the street.
JLS: I want to go back to one of the first times you created art and to your earlier influences.
HG: I used to live in San Francisco, and during that time, influences in my life were watching Mark Gonzales do skate art, then Bigfoot – this guy named Scott Kinekt he’s an artist who does all these Bigfoot things. My first big influence was going to Bigfoot’s studio and watching him do what he does. And Chris Pastras who was doing a lot of cool different artwork. He worked with Jason Lee on Stereo the skate company. So mostly I’d say just writing on my loft bed I had, but then one day I had a little injury on my ankle, so I started painting with sponges, and there was a girl who had gone to RISDE who was my neighbor. She was like, “you should try using this brush.” She gave me my first brush, and then I filled up my house. You know when you first start painting, you’re like, “Oh, cool. I’ll paint on this piece of wood or sheet rock.” So then I filled up the whole house, and then Bigfoot and Chris Pastras were doing this show at the Fillmore Gallery, and I did a group show with them. It felt like a good way to let out some steam.
JLS: Is it true that you lived in Andy Warhol’s old Soho loft?
HG: One of his old spaces, yeah. There are a lot of stories there, but it basically turned into an arts club called the Soho Arts club. I built a stage and a bar and a DJ booth and bands used to play there – Flatbush Zombies, ASAP Rocky did a video there. We did a party for him. Jamie Hince, he used to stop by, Allison from the Kills did a portrait there of Jessica Stam that I still have. It was like a hangout place for the kids during the day and it turned into adult world for the adults in the night. I opened my house up to that which was kind of exhausting because I had to get another loft to hide from the people from that loft.
JLS: Regarding the Soho Arts Club, what are some things to come?
HG: The Soho Arts Club was born out of the fact that my house was just a meeting point for everyone and I had so much space. That was the decision I made like, “Oh, do I be selfish and keep it all to myself or do I open it up?” It consumed a lot of my energy and time, but I think if you help one person a year get off a couch and find their own apartment and succeed in something then it’s worth it. I think that’s the whole heart of the Soho Arts Club, and it’s continually evolving. From start-up magazines to graphic artists, to musicians, and visual artists – all sorts of talent here. We often work with Adidas, which supports young skate artists or different photo shoots – Max Montgomery shoots here a lot, and Derek Ketella, so the concept is for our older more successful photographers like Sante D’Orazio or even Michael Avedon whose young but successful and trained – to mentor the younger kids. Rent prices in New York have pushed most of the artists out of the city; it’s too expensive to live here when you’re just getting started. Soho used to be home for artists, and we wanted to give that opportunity back. We’ve already had quite a few members graduate you could say, they have been in the space for some time, and then we helped them put on their own show in the gallery. It’s about giving young artists a place to be creative, and then go on to have their first show in a Manhattan gallery.
JLS: Can you share anything about some current projects?
HG: The clothing stuff I’m doing with Delanci and Haculla is really exciting. Haculla’s grown worldwide working with Harvey Nicols, Selfridges, Neiman Marcus, Saks, Farfetch, etc. It’s grown so much, and just to be a part of it, be able to design because I’ve always loved clothes, has been a great release for me, and an outlet, and a learning experience. And traveling the world – I have some projects coming up in Dubai and a show coming up in Rome and in London.
Photographer: Max Montgomery