Josh Hadar: A Willow Grows in Springs

One look at Joshua Hadar’s rendering of a willow welded in stainless steel piping prompts a sense of wonder
Josh Hadar working on his bike and tree sculptures in a studio in SoHo.

    Quite a long time ago and in a much different context, Ronald Reagan said “A tree’s a tree. How many more do you have to look at?” That observation may be misguided in a nature-loving sense, but it is also flawed in an artistic one.

    One look at Joshua Hadar’s rendering of a willow welded in stainless steel piping prompts a sense of wonder at the beauty and invention and an immediate desire to see more of his sculptures. During its completion, the willow contributed to some near-miss traffic accidents on Springs-Fireplace Road as cars screeched to a halt to get a closer look.

    The work is uniquely Mr. Hadar’s, but he was able to fabricate it this summer in East Hampton instead of his SoHo studio thanks to the cooperation of James DeMartis, who operates the metal shop and studio where the 12-foot-high, 18-foot-wide willow stands, and the metal-finishing skills of Dennis Wolf, who helped him complete the project.

    The working relationship with Mr. DeMartis “happened organically through my network of friends. I knew of him, but didn’t know he did this kind of thing,” said Mr. Hadar, who could not be happier with the experience. “James is one of the best metal fabricators I have ever seen. He’s so exact, but with a more easygoing demeanor” than most of the fabricators he has worked with in the past. Even with a different aesthetic interest — “he’s more David Smith and I’m more Roxy Payne”—the two hit it off.

    Mr. Wolf’s involvement was also serendipitous. He is both an arborist and a welder, having trained trees and bushes to grow into shapes and worked on boilers in St. Louis for many years. “We all shared ideas and techniques,” said the sculptor. “We became very good friends.”

    The project started with a model, which was a departure for Mr. Hadar in that he made it from memory rather than using photographs for reference, as he had done with acacia trees in earlier pieces. This time, “I was looking to get more technically skilled in scaling up larger projects. People began to approach me about a finished piece. There was a lot of interest.”

    He loved the movement the model implied. It was made of untreated carbonized steel, like most of his earlier work, and is now quite patinated with rust. It captures the spirit of the finished work, which was executed in stainless steel, but lacks some of its grace.

    Mr. DeMartis called the finished work a “lyrical take on a tree. It’s striking, people really like it.” He himself, he said, is “an artist foremost,” but “I am also a business owner, one who understands the creative process” and likes to help artists realize their vision “in a symbiotic way.” That vision included Mr. Wolf: “His background really was too good to be true.”

    While he studied art and film at Boston University, metal sculpture was not something Mr. Hadar had any background in before he started welding several years ago. His career had taken a more practical path; he started out doing camera work for documentaries and couch-hopping among friends’ apartments.

    Realizing that this lifestyle was unsustainable, he “took new jobs offering more security. I needed a steady paycheck and insurance.” He worked leasing production space to commercials and television, eventually becoming involved in reviving the old Studio 54 space for theatrical productions such as “Cabaret.”

    While there were some creative aspects to that job, he found that “each new job took me farther away from where I wanted to be — making art, or behind the camera.”

    In 2005, he was approached to sell the Studio 54 business “lock, stock, and barrel,” which he did, giving him, if not retirement money, at least some breathing room to figure out the next step. “I always knew in back of my mind I would pursue a creative lifestyle, that was the master plan. I just took a 15-year hiatus in business.”

    He took a class in basic welding. “I liked the physicality of metalwork. I had a lot of aggression. I wanted to bang the hell out of something from years of being a frustrated artist sitting in an office in a business suit.”

    From the first class, “with the torch in my hand heating up metal until it’s orange and liquid and pounding it with a hammer, I was just in my element. I knew I had found it. I wasn’t even really inspired to build one thing, I just loved the process.”

    For six months, he just pounded metal. “I did not even make anything, just learned about welding and material, how to bend it this way and that way into organic shapes” that became furniture and small pieces.

    Conceptually, Mr. Hadar did not find anything that really inspired him until one night when he came upon a Dumpster full of old bicycles. “When I saw it, I knew I could do something with them. I waded in and started pulling them out.” He began designing bicycles, both as art forms and practical applications of environmentally friendly technology. He motorized one, designing a glass gas tank for it. A solar-charged battery version can move at speeds up to 45 miles per hour for up to 25 miles. Although he plans to keep refining this series, his more recent work has been devoted to the tree forms.

    The trees have also incorporated solar power, using photovoltaic cells to power lights in them. Their inspiration was a cast-aside piece for one of the bikes. It reminded him of a branch, and he began to make similar forms. The first ones, based on acacia trees he had seen on his honeymoon in Africa, have been commissioned for commercial buildings, hotels, and private terraces.

    The willow he made in Springs is a departure, the first to suggest movement of the branches. It has attracted a lot of attention and interest from buyers and those who might put it on display publicly, although nothing has been finalized. The sculptor said he looks forward to its disposition, and to using the proceeds to fund his next project.

    Mr. Hadar, whose grandparents began visiting Southampton in the early 1960s, grew up spending summers at his mother’s place in Northwest Woods. Before college he worked as a cook at the old Little Rock Lobster on Three Mile Harbor Road in Springs, and as a landscaper. He continues to rent a summer place in Northwest Woods with his wife, Youn, and 4-year old twin boys, Izzy and Zeke. This summer was the first, however, to be planned as a working vacation.

A birch tree from “The Grove,” an installation at the Intercontinental Hotel in Times Square.
The completed version of the willow in Springs.
A dedicated environmentalist, Josh Hadar uses solar power in some of his tree and bicycle works.