Work of the Week – Rainbow Lake by Raoul Hague
by Parker Louise Bobbitt
This week’s Work of the Week is Rainbow Lake by American wood sculptor Raoul Hague.
Recently, the term “slow living” has been presented as an alternative to our excessive use of social media, fast fashion and other aspects of modern industrialized culture. Rather, “slow living” praises quality over the quantity that has become readily available to us. Hague embraced living life slowly and simply long before this became a movement. By living with these values, Hague found that he was better able to fully engage with his work, resulting in simple yet powerful sculptures.
Rainbow Lake is a wood sculpture that maintains the integrity of the tree from which it was sculptured while providing a unique translation of Abstract Expressionism. The organic shape and texture of Rainbow Lake creates an emphasis on a play between shadow and light. By incorporating the natural qualities of wood grain and decay rather than masking them, Hague ensures that that nature and art are seen as equals, even united, neither more worthy of admiration than the other. The time, dedication and skill involved in the process of creating Rainbow Lake is apparent through its vitality, elegance and balance.
Carefully studying his work before each cut, Hague works slowly and purposefully. “I cut the mass into fragments and I move in it. One can orchestrate in the wood — I don’t have a clear idea when I start. I am not a conceptual artist. So you begin. You stare at it, and finally you have to do something. You are not making a story out of it. You make a cut. From then on it follows. Like the jazz musician, music comes out of you. You make one cut, then you become intimate. That thing becomes humanized, a being,” says Hague regarding his process. Rather than beginning with a definite plan, he practices direct carving. The final work is determined more by the process than a preconceived vision.
Raoul Hague was born in 1904 in Constantinople, Turkey. After immigrating to the United States in 1921, he began studying art at the Art Institute of Chicago where he recognized his lack of skill for drawing. Here, his interest in sculpture was sparked. He moved to New York City, joined the Arts students League and began working in sculpture. In New York, he found a community and inspiration in artists such as Arshile Gorky and John Flanagan who first introduced him to direct carving in stone. After a period of service in the American Army, Hague moved to Woodstock, NY where his works had been stored during his time overseas. Due to the low availability of carving stone there, he began to work in the wood of walnut trees found throughout the Catskill Mountains. Generally, Hague kept to himself, reading books and living with his sculptures in his cabin. In the only interview Hague gave in his life, he said of his work, “It becomes part of my life for the next three or four months. I do my chores around it. I drink evenings, looking at the progress of my work during the day.” Raoul Hague passed away in 1993 in his Woodstock, New York cabin at the age of 88 but is influence and legacy live on today through his work.
While some artists strive to become “artist celebrities,” Hague was not interested in excessive money or fame that could come from his work. He enjoyed living slowly and simply, spending time with the material and, even once over the span of 25 years, creating works that maintained a sense of beauty, simplicity and vitality. By escaping the rush of the city in favor of Woodstock, Hague found time to be with his works as he moved through the process of sculpting them. Raoul Hague’s life and work embody the qualities some search for in the modern “slow living movement.” For Hague, this meant taking time to fully engage with each of his sculptures, resulting in a lifetime of compellingly authentic work.
Artwork above: Raoul Hague, Rainbow Lake, 1980, wood, carved on walnut, 68 x 44 x 44 inches. Gift of the Raoul Hague Foundation. Permanent Collection. 2012.52.32.