Robert Hauck builds layer upon layer in his abstract images


Looking takes time, and time is central to Rob Hauck’s artwork. What pulls you in is its multiple layers, the way he builds up both his colors and the elements woven under and above them, which upon a closer look reveal varying textures that create a dynamism to his simultaneously subtle work.

Hauck literally builds his paintings from back to front — the finished image we see derives from a process of give-and-take and begins with that first stroke of paint. He explains, “Then I have to get rid of the white on the paper as quickly as possible, and then start from there.”

Looking closely at any of Hauck’s surfaces, you can discern his process. “Everything is done in layers,” he explains. “It’s almost geological. It would be difficult to say how many layers, because what I will often put down is a layer, and then just before it’s completely dry, I scrape a lot of it off.” Hauck will then put on another layer and scrape that off, so you get the pentimento — the visible trace of earlier painting beneath. You can see how this process of painting, then scraping, then painting again, along with a soft, warm palette, creates constantly shifting surfaces, sometimes anchored with smaller bold shapes or strokes of color.

All his works are abstract, and the titles are a jumping-off point for each of us to make our own associations. Hauck writes on his website, “All painting is abstract in that it depicts aspects of the three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional canvas, sheet of paper, or board. My goal as a painter is to hint at rather than record. I use shape, color, line, and texture, to capture a time, place, experience, or emotion. In the process, I add or remove elements to convey my intent, allowing viewers to experience a painting on their own terms.” He tells me, too, that although he titles his work, “I am assuming that the viewer will see something else. Basically, it’s a show of my paintings and of the viewers’ paintings. It’s a continuation of the process of creation.”

Earlier in his career Hauck used bright colors, but now his colors are both muted and usually fairly close to one another. He says that he likes the simplicity of this, but, “The way I make up for that is by using collage and other things to increase texture and tension. Sometimes I’m crumbling up paper, but then I paint over it.” In other instances, he attaches torn pieces of a paint-saturated towel, or a piece of burlap or gauze. Here, he will glue the fabric on top of the painted surface, and then paint over it, knitting the material into the composition. Hauck tells me that he uses collage to create shapes and then starts altering with the painting and scraping, going back and forth. Other elements he incorporates in his work are an official stamp from an ancient deed; torn pieces of paper, including bits of drawings from his father’s desk; and parts of another painting.

“I take remnants of things and create something new,” Hauck says. “It’s something that had a previous purpose, but now has a new purpose … I rely on collage because it involves recreation — using things that have lost their original meaning or utility to create new meaning, transforming what was into what is. Basically, it’s taking remnants of one reality to create a new reality. It’s like creating a history lesson.” 

In addition to using collage to alter the surface, Hauck also uses various tools to create textures of repeating linear ridges in thick areas of acrylic. “I spend a lot of time in the hardware store finding things I can scrape with,” Hauck admits. For him, this process is yet another way to create a mood, a sentiment, a place of our own imagination.

He also uses written elements, such as random letters or symbols, text on scraps of magazine pages, and in one case, Japanese calligraphy, to create tension in his compositions. They carry no implied meaning; rather he uses them for their visual impact.

Because his work is so much about the process of creating, I asked Hauck how long it takes to complete them: “Most of them are never done. Some of these have been sitting for a long time. And then when the show came up, it was time to frame them. Some of them I worked on again just before framing. Fortunately, or unfortunately, when you are dealing with work on paper, it has to be behind glass. Once you frame it, you can’t mess around with it.”


Robert Hauk’s exhibition “Coming Apart/Falling Together” at the Edgartown library through the end of August.