The Look Outside
A first transition takes place in the artist’s development. Figurative icons start to appear in his paintings – the origin of that change lies in the mood of the ’80s which is perfectly described in Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel The Bonfire of Vanities. For Van Haaften, painting in the mid–’80s becomes a journalistic testimony – a possibility to react on what is going on in the real world and time, using painting in the tradition of the 17th century vanitas to represent a world that seems to be totally pleased with itself. The USA is playing a key–role as a world leader during this decade. Van Haaften, working from Flaubert’s idea ‘il faut être de son temps’, gives that attitude a face by making three mayor series of work: Status, The Powers That Be, and The NYC Diaries.
With the United States as such a dominant element in contemporary culture, Van Haaften aspires to be part of it as a painter – literally, by going to New York, where in 1986 he is invited as guest teacher at the Parsons School of Design. During that stay he makes a large collection of drawings, sketches and designs based on his NYC experiences and impressions: The NYC Diaries.
Van Haaften chooses jewelry – a recurrent motive in traditional vanitas – as a metaphor of superabundance in the Status series, depicted in a baroque-like technique. The world’s political powers come forward in glossy-painted jet fighters stretched on custom made frames in The Powers That Be. Both series are made in a vertical direction, almost as symbols of glorification.