Humans have been expressing themselves and depicting their surroundings through drawing since the time of the first cave paintings over 43,000 years ago. These unknown hands drew what they saw and left evidence of their time in history for future generations. In much the same way, Richard Haines, an extremely talented and noted artist especially in the fashion industry, is a part of that continuum. His elegant illustrations depicted in his blog, so simply yet so eloquently titled What I Saw Today, might be likened to today’s version of cave paintings that will stand as evidence that we were here.
In an age where the majority of the population has a camera in their phone and where visual images can be captured and transported with a click, what place does an illustrator hold in fashion? Why look at an image drawn by an artist rather than the image itself? We spoke with Richard Haines to understand his perspective on his work and to appreciate art that captures not only an image, but the imagination.
Haines came to New York City in the 1970s looking to succeed in a career as a fashion illustrator, but soon found that his undeveloped style lacked confidence, and work for fashion illustrators was drying up. He became a fashion designer instead and worked successfully for the next 35 years, designing and working as a creative director for the likes of Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, and Bill Blass among others. The economy’s downfall in 2008 found Haines unemployed. Necessity, in this instance, was perhaps a force that benefitted Haines, in that he was able to return to his first love, art. He moved from his expensive home in Manhattan to a studio apartment in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn where he started his blog What I Saw Today depicting just that. This stripped down version of his life allowed him to follow his true passion and that passion is expressed beautifully, simply, and vibrantly in his illustrations.
What is it specifically about NYC that makes it so inspirational, and how has this inspiration changed over time for you?
“NYC means so much to me, even in this extraordinarily challenging time. It represents speed, energy, democracy, and possibility. I love the mix of people and cultures that coexist, everyone with a shared sense of purpose: to be heard, to be seen, to make better. The architecture changes, the flow of money changes, the technology changes, but I still find the energy unchanged, undiminished, even in this challenging time.”
Photo Credit: Richard Haines (richard_haines) on Instagram
Haines’ blog caught the attention of Miuccia Prada for whom he created artwork for a collection of t-shirts as well as a collectable book of his work. Soon Haines became a fixture in the front row of Fashion Week where he captured not only the runway, but the audience as well. His illustrations have since visually recorded collections from Dries Van Noten and Maison Valentino to Ronald Van Der Kemp and Chanel among many others from New York to London to Milan then Paris.
When you illustrate at a runway show, is your objective to capture the image the designer created or do you hope to capture how the image makes you feel?
“Those two feelings go hand in hand, it’s really hard to separate one from the other. When I draw live at a runway show I am looking for the message the designer wants to send, and then I can’t help but feel emotionally attached to what I’m seeing as well. It’s a kind of unspoken dance. When I went to my first Valentino couture show I really had a sense of what Pier Paolo was saying- I was so excited I couldn’t wait to draw the show. He eventually purchased some of the drawings, so for me that was the validation that we were on the same wavelength.”
Haines’ art style is fluid, passionate, vibrant, and endlessly compelling. Haines, a huge fan of Instagram and social media, has garnered a massive social media following through his artwork posts. In a period of time when social media has allowed billions of artists to showcase their work to the world, Richard Haines has been able to differentiate himself through his unique style.
What do you want people to know about you when they look at your artwork?
“I don’t know if I want them to know so much about me versus the work. I’d like the viewer to engage in the work, to interpret, to place themselves in it. When I draw I eliminate so that the viewer can fill in as they see fit. If a viewer can disappear into the work for a moment then I feel like I’ve done my job!”
Haines often discusses the creation of a “visual record” to depict surroundings, movements, and events at certain periods in time. New York City has been no stranger to social movements, and the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted an outpouring of visual depictions from artists around the globe. These are turbulent times, and artists are busy capturing and reflecting those times as well as influencing them.
You have discussed in several interviews how art intrigues you because it documents a period of time or a moment in time; Do you then ever feel that it is the responsibility of an artist to convey social messages in their artwork?
“I don’t judge who has a responsibility or not, that’s heavy and not really my place. I do feel like my drawing has changed in the past few months. I can’t physically participate in the marches for BLM but I want to show my solidarity, so I have made work that’s more political lately, and that feels right. I can’t wait until it’s ok to be back on crowded trains and streets – I miss that energy so much!”
Haines has been featured in several Daniel Cooney Fine Art Exhibitions with the most recent being titled The History of Beauty.The exhibition features several artists from Antonio Lopez and Christian Berard to Paul Cadmus who have inspired Haines’ work. Here, Haines is placed among several great artists to convey a bigger story about life, movement, and beauty.
In reference to your Daniel Cooney History of Beauty exhibit, you say that your art is part of a bigger story. Where do you see that story going and what part will you play?
“I’ve been looking at cave paintings lately. They are so immediate and beautiful and in the most primal way they say ‘I was here, I saw this, I want you to know that I was here’ which I think is a bid to immortality, and the essence of humanity. I don’t want to compare myself to other artists, but I hope that someday someone will see my work and think ‘oh, that’s what 2016 was like’ or ‘that’s Brooklyn in 2020’ then I will feel part of a bigger picture, a continuum!”
We certainly believe Haines is part of that continuum, and we look forward to seeing Haines’ future work and collaborations. Haines is also set to introduce an online art class soon, we can’t wait! To stay tuned and shop his work: