Michael Hafftka

Michael Hafftka, Memory
Michael Hafftka, Memory, 2016, oil on linen, 78" x 100" / 198 x 254 cm

b. 1953, Manhattan, NY, USA

Lives & works Brooklyn, NY, USA

Born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, Michael Hafftka has been a practicing artist for 45 years. 

Over the decades he has ignored the vagaries of the art world, instead resolutely and unfailingly following his own path. Along the way, Hafftka has met artists, musicians and intellectuals who have helped shaped his practice, but it is perhaps the art historian Meyer Schapiro whose early influence on Hafftka shaped his practice. Schapiro’s mentoring of Hafftka in aesthetics lead the young artist to dispense with unnecessary details from his works. The bare backgrounds become like a Brechtian stage where the intense emotions and tensions engulfing his subjects draw the viewer into a state of deep self-reflection; the locus of the emotional experience migrates from the viewed to the viewer.

Hafftka describes himself as a humanistic painter (see the video below). The emotional state of his subject – whether a real or imaginary person – is central to his work. Dreams and the subconscious feed his inspiration for his figurative paintings. Portraiture is an important aspect of his practice, but rather focus on a photographic likeness of his sitter or subject, Hafftka connects with his subject on a deeply emotional level.

As a child of Holocaust survivors, the marks of intergenerational trauma can be seen in some of his works. The idea of chance was a constant refrain throughout his life that stems from his parents’ luck at surviving the war. Hafftka speaks about the part chance plays in his art making and of becoming an artist in the video below.

Hafftka is widely represented in major museums in the United States. In December 2018, the Metropolitan Museum of Art added several prints to its existing holdings of Hafftka. The British Museum recently acquired a collection of his prints.

Public collections

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Brooklyn Museum, New York

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

New York Public Library Collection, New York

Museum of Fine Arts Houston, TX

The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, TX

Housatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport, CT

Art Museum of S. Texas, Corpus Christi, TX

Old Jail Art Center, Albany, TX

Arizona State University Art Museum

University Museum at Texas State University, Houston

Yeshiva University Museum, New York, NY

Central High School, Philadelphia, PA

Chapman University Permanent Art Collection, Orange, CA

British Museum, London, UK


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