In Arts & Entertainment

Richard Haas' Downtown Milwaukee mural was painted in 1981.

"The City is My Canvas" illuminates Haas' work

Wisconsin native Richard Haas, the artist behind one of downtown's highest profile murals, is the subject of a new book that captures many of his works in lavish, full-color photos.

"The City is My Canvas," published in hardcover by international art book publisher Prestel, highlights Haas' work all over the world in public and private spaces and includes essays by the artist himself and Miami Herald architecture critic Beth Dunlop.

Haas, born in Spring Green, fell under the spell of local architecture giant Frank Lloyd Wright and spent two summers working at Taliesen with his uncle, a stone mason who worked for Wright. But, deciding that working as an architect required too much math and science, Haas, by then living in Milwaukee, studied art at UW-Milwaukee and, later, the University of Minnesota.

Haas is one of the most respected modern artists working in quadratura and tromp l'oeil painting. His illusionistic three-dimension murals are the result of his love for these ancient traditions as well as for architecture and city scapes.

Haas began his career by making dioramas and shadow boxes depicting the studios of famous artists and city landscapes. These led to the illusionistic paintings of interiors of New York buildings and, ultimately, to the sort of mural that can be seen on the east wall of the Grand Theatre downtown.

And that 1981 work is a perfect example of Haas' work for it beautifies an otherwise dead space, creates a vivid illusion and conjures the past by depicting the Pabst Building, demolished at the time the mural was being painted.

By including so prominently the image of a doomed building, Haas bridges the past and present and -- unwittingly, because the construction of the 100 East building was still years away -- reminds us of the thematic connection between the Pabst building and its modern replacement.

Haas has worked similar miracles on buildings alll across the U.S., in Germany and other European countries. His European works carry on a long tradition of such painting. Tromp l'oeil works date back to Roman times and during the baroque era -- when it began to be called quadratura, which means both "squaring" and "concreteness" -- it flourished throughout northern Europe, too.

"The City is My Canvas" is $39.95 and available at local bookshops.

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