Grant Haffner is well known and loved as a painter and scene maker in the Hamptons art world, but over the last year or so, the artist’s profile has exploded well beyond the East End, or even the East Coast. After years of hard work and a perfect wave of social media love and luck, Haffner’s colorful and propulsive paintings of local roads and utility poles have set him on a path most artists only dream of.
Now, as he sits poised on the edge of what could be widespread international recognition and, possibly, art stardom, Haffner is relocating to Massachusetts. And—with a lot of help from his twin sister Carly Haffner, their artist friends and Hampton Photo Arts—he’s saying goodbye (for now) with one more “Bonac Tonic” exhibition, Bonac Tonic Rising, opening this Saturday, March 12 at Ashawagh Hall in Springs.
Sitting down to discuss his recent good fortune, the power of social media in art, and Saturday’s show, Haffner explains how the Bonac Tonic collective became a powerful force in the East End art scene, and why it’s important to continue showing young talent outside established galleries.
“There’s great young talent here that needs to be seen, so that’s a big reason why we’re doing it—just for the old school reason of showing art and having a good time.”
Before the Bonac Tonic art collective put on their very first show at Ashawagh Hall 10 years ago, Haffner says he had walked around showing Xeroxed copies of his paintings to local galleries and was wholly rejected. “Everyone kind of shunned [me] off, and I quickly realized that I didn’t have time to try to get someone to believe in me,” the artist recalls, explaining what led to Bonac Tonic creating their own shows and how that evolved into bigger things.
“It is the reason that the galleries eventually accepted me—it’s almost like I proved myself in front of their eyes,” Haffner says.
Bonac Tonic, and later Tonic Artspace, put on fun events and displayed good, fresh work. “It was an art party,” Haffner adds. “We were having so much fun, that when people came in, you almost fed off that fun energy.”
On Saturday, Bonac Tonic Rising is designed to recapture the exciting energy from those early days. The exhibition features a mix of artists, including some of the collective’s founding members, frequent participants and a few artists showing for the very first time.
The list includes Alexander George McCue, Christine Lidrbauch, Carly Haffner, Grant Haffner, Darlene Charneco, Erick Osbaldo Segura, Hailey London, Justin Smith, Kate Nicolai, Rossa Cole, Sabra Moon Elliot, Sage Cotignola, Scott Bluedorn and Scott Gibbons.
Along with all the original art in Bonac Tonic Rising, Haffner says part of Ashawagh Hall will be converted into a storefront with handmade artist items and signed prints priced so any art fan can afford to go home with something. A show catalogue in the style of a 1990s zine will be among the items available in the shop.
With no air of importance or pretension, Haffner points out that since his work gained international attention via Instagram and other social media sites, all his studio time is spent filling a long list of commission orders. Recent patrons include celebrities, such as Rose McGowan, and serious international art heavyweights, including one billionaire Japanese collector, Yusaku Maezawa, who’s giving him a solo exhibition at his Contemporary Art Foundation in Japan this October.
Meanwhile, Marriott is decorating 60 rooms in their new Long Island City hotel with Haffner’s art, and he’s already been contacted by another, non-Marriott hotel in Sacramento, California. Teachers are reaching out to Haffner because they’re using his work in lesson plans, and Juno Records in Germany recently hired Haffner to paint the cover of their next CockTail d’Amore album, by Berlin-based DJ Omer. And new opportunities are popping up daily.
“It’s just like piggybacking,” Haffner said. “I’m not looking for this stuff, I’m just putting it out there.”
Bonac Tonic Rising opens at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. The show is also open from 12–4 p.m. on Sunday.