Carmen Haakstad: Looking Within

One - oil on panelNatures CrossBy Jody Farrell

Despite a serious car accident that has left him in a cast and hobbling on crutches, Carmen Haakstad is eager for me to understand the absolutely integral role art plays in his life.

He’s got journals of stories and poems, drawings, and fleeting thoughts he shares openly. He negotiates the stairs, with some effort, first to the garage, then to the second floor of his Grande Prairie split-level house to show me his workspaces – the lower one set up for painting the large-scale oil on plywood series he’d been working on before his accident; the other, a tidy, well-lit and accessorized studio where earlier works hang next to quick sketches and inspiring quotes.

From the mostly large, colourful pieces housed on every wall, to the abundant sketchbooks and well-worn journals, everything in this warm and pleasant home announces “an artist lives here.” And yet, I get the impression Haakstad himself struggles with the notion.

“I always wanted to be an artist,” he begins. “Now, I see myself as an artist doing fundraising for a living, with the art moving gradually to the forefront.”

The Bat Maker,  oil on panelHaakstad’s emergence into the world of art began in high school, but really took off when he entered the University of Minnesota-Deluth on a full hockey scholarship. He switched from a general arts degree to a Bachelor of Fine Arts, the heavy demands of his athletic commitment requiring him to stay on an extra year. He graduated in 1979, the university’s first BFA to have completed the degree by way of a hockey scholarship. The incongruous pairing of artist and athlete; that combination of deep reflection and full-out physical drive, was perhaps an early sign of what was to come.

The LaGlace native came back home, and, shortly after an exhibition of his BFA works, was made director-curator of Grande Prairie’s fledgling Prairie Art Gallery (PAG). Haakstad spent the next seven years helping to establish and permanently house the PAG, now a highly-esteemed Class A gallery whose status allows for international exhibitions. More than two decades of fundraising for non-profit organizations followed. Today, he is the vice president of external relations for Evergreen Park, a multipurpose fairground and trade show complex in the County of Grande Prairie.

“When I consider my art, I don’t know if I could do it full time. I like the interaction I have with people.”

Still, Haakstad approaches his day job in the spirit of an artist.

A powerpoint workshop he’s designed to help people develop fundraising and organizational skills includes several of his designs, most with spiritual overtones. He finds that the art, inspired by thoughts on humanity and the need for benevolence regardless of race and culture, is a welcome addition to the mix.

“Working with volunteers has been very exhilarating,” he says. “They are generally happy people who want to be doing what they are doing. I am interested in the attitude of volunteerism, and fascinated by philanthropists who have been successful and choose to give it all back to the community.”

Carmen in his officeBattle of Alberta, pastelHaakstad is also a good promoter. He set up a website in 2004, marketing both his art and merchandise bearing his images. He manages to be affirmative without being aggressive. There’s an element of confidence that many artists seem not to possess; one that was perhaps honed in his hockey playing days.

He speaks of the marketing of hockey images as something he’s moved past. While they too held deep meaning for him at one time, he sees them as part of a more youthful perspective. Haakstad feels that, at 50, his focus is increasingly turning to humanity and our daily treatment of our fellow man. The car accident, which also injured his wife Gail and eldest daughter Daneil, coupled with the loss of both parents, has impacted him in ways he is still figuring out. He has been working on a series of figures he calls “seekers,” inspired by a drawing he made while pondering his journey in life. Many are lone, monklike shapes, rendered in oil on plywood. They stand about five feet tall, and appear to be in a state of deep contemplation. The paint is applied like a stain, highlighting the grain of the wood in such a way as to restore it to its more woodsy, less manufactured origin. The figures often reveal a swirl in the grain that resembles some flow of energy, perhaps a soul. Interestingly, where earlier seekers’ hearts were located in the lower part of the body, a more recent one features the heart in its proper place.

“I’m always looking within for guidance,” Haakstad says. “That’s where the art comes from.”

Carmen Haakstad is one of three speakers featured at the Art of the Peace Visual Arts Symposium in Grande Prairie on Saturday, October 14, 2006. He will talk about how art has influenced his path in life.


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