Christopher Phillips Haile came of age as an artist in the mid 1960’s while in high school. Diagnosed with juvenile onset diabetes, his energies were galvanized into making art. The son of an art educator, Haile was in no short supply of either materials or encouragement.
In 1970 after briefly attending Hope College in Holland Michigan, Haile traveled with his lifetime friend Jon Snow to Rome where he matriculated in the Accademia di Belle Arti. However, it was the informal education that Rome provided that was truly foundational to his art. Of particular note was his exposure to the “arte povera” movement then in vogue in Italy and a period of employment as a member of the film crew of Federico Fellini’s “Roma”, an autobiographical film about Fellini’s coming to Rome as a young man/artist. A friendship with Fellini ensued and Haile made Fellini’s portrait and in return was given an old VW that took him on an odyssey which included Paris, London and Madrid.
Upon returning to NYC, Haile landed on the Lower East Side and enrolled in the NYU film program where he studied with Martin Scorcese, a director in love with NYC in a way mirroring Fellini’s love for Rome. While ostensibly not a significant part of Haile’s oeuvre, film, with its structure, visual language, narrative, character study and point of view was always part of Haile’s consciousness.
In the mid 70’s poet John Sherry shared his insights into the work of William Blake with Haile and also introduced him to artist/teacher Aubrey Schwartz at SUNY Binghamton. Haile eventually traveled to Binghamton where he took up residence in a barn and in off-hours made important use of the campus printmaking studio. Working mostly in monotype (unique prints) he produced an important early body of work. Subsequently Haile returned to NYC where he managed to become the “caretaker” of a 5-story brownstone on East 14th street that had been all but abandoned. 210-12 East 14th street became over the next 15 years habitat, studio, performance space for poets, actors and musicians as well as an exhibition space (annually between 1982-86) for fellow artists.
Between the early 70’s until his death in 1998, Haile worked continuously outside the mainstream of art but proximate enough to it to know it and many of its participants well. He left a body of work in excess of 6,000, including drawings, paintings, sculpture and poetry as well as creating many environments which for those who had the pleasure, were really in some ways his true signature pieces as an artist. Visiting his studio or “environments” whether in NYC, in the west Texas dessert, among the bull rushes of the Hamptons, the pilot’s quarters of a Greek freighter, or the northwest woods of Massachusetts, one would invariably feel transported to another dimension of time somehow separated from the chatter of modern life. Never having a telephone, Haile always welcomed the visitor with graciousness and generosity, personifying the spirit that he so often depicted in his art.
One of Haile’s credos was “available technology”. Loosely translated this is meant to express his belief that art is not limited or defined by media. That all substances and approaches are grist for the mill to achieve the ends of art. The logical conclusion being that one’s life can be lived as art, that art and consciousness are one. It is working in this spirit that Chris Haile is best understood as being a visionary artist.*
* This short biographical statement was written for a showing of a body of his work at an environmental conference at Omega Institute in 2003
After Chris died there was a small gathering of close friends and family in Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor which was recorded. It started with John Sherry, poet and playwright who was a dear and close family friend and whose grave is a now just a few feet from Chris. Next is Chris’s close lifetime friend, Jon Snow, artist and educator who attended art school with Chris in Rome, was part of the salon on 14th Street and the Haile family in Sag Harbor. Lastly Chris’s mother, Lucia Haile, artist and educator recollects a few memories before going back to the family home and a much larger gathering at the family home which is now the Haile Art Foundation. Lucia too is now in the family plot next to Chris along with her sister Carol Phillips and Carol’s son Peter. When you listen, note the piper Chris’s brother Roger had playing off in the distance. The cemetery plot is in a beautiful location near the woods and is adorned by a wooden bench that Chris made and worth visiting.
Click and Listen: 1998 Eulogy for Chris Haile by John Sherry, Jon Snow and Lucia Haile