I'm interested in capturing the ordinary, whether it be an object or a momentary event. I want to make it permanent but make it seem like it isn't.(1) — Joseph Havel
Joseph Havel's art traffics in the paradox of opposing materials and appearances. What appears to be a floating, ghostlike apparition of cloth is in fact a heavy bronze sculpture. Havel often begins by hanging or draping different cloth materials throughout his studio, allowing gravity to dictate a natural configuration. From this starting point, he makes numerous drawings, along with photographs, documenting the complex of folds and wrinkles and then suggesting revisions through the drawing process. Havel then applies wax to the fabric to stiffen it, incorporating the drawing revisions, as well as making new ones as he directly manipulates the wax and cloth, generally drawing directly onto the form. When the form is finally set to the artist’s satisfaction, the waxed cloth is cut into sections, each of which is in turn subtly manipulated again by the artist. From these intermediate stages of development and artistic license, bronze casts are made of the sections, which are then reassembled and welded into the final form. "The results," Havel puts it, "are various stages of idealizations of the 'natural'."
The Modern Art Museum's Drape, 1999, is an almost ten-foot tower of cascading cloth, reassembled from more than seventy sections of material that has been drawn over, waxed, and massaged into a flowing figurative presence. The visceral quality of the folds clearly references the ability of painting to make inert material sensuous, as well as the sculptor's challenge of bringing dynamic physical form into space. Tied off three quarters of the way up the drape, creating a crowning or secondary cascade of cloth, Drape could directly refer to Rodin's famous sculpture of the poet Honoré de Balzac, in which the poet is depicted wearing a full-length cape with a winglike piece of cloth flying off his shoulder (1897, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). When asked about this possible reference, the artist remarked, "I think about Rodin's Balzac a lot and sometimes it creeps into the work. It definitely seems like it did here. But remember, it's just an old drape that could have just fallen that way."
— Michael Auping
(1) Joseph Havel. Quotes from the artist are from conversations with the author, 1999–2001.