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Going Solo

Part of a famous pair, Havel does “home” alone.

Dan Havel, photographed at Havel Ruck Projects’ 2011 installation “Torrent” at the entrance to the Green Resource Center in the City of Houston Permit & Licensing building

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Dan Havel sits outside the Antidote coffee shop on Studewood with his left leg propped up on a chair. Sporting glasses, a short-sleeve plaid shirt and a head of blond-gray hair, Havel, who recently underwent surgery for arthritis in his ankle, is weighed down by a blue cast that extends inches below the knee.

Despite the bandaged limb, the 54-year-old artist—Houston magazine’s co-artist of the year in 2009—continues to achieve worldwide acclaim through his partnership with Dean Ruck. The sculpture-making duo Havel Ruck Projects is best known for “Inversion,” a 2005 public installation on Montrose that blew away passersby with a 90-foot vortex illusion made from scrap wood. Honda recently used a photo of the piece during a U.K. marketing campaign. (Havel and Ruck, not having given permission for that commercial usage, have since filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit.)

Before the surgery in July, Havel, who’s been an art teacher at St. John’s School for 18 years, completed work on his first solo show in nearly a decade. Homewrecker: Disrupted Architecture, on display Sept. 6 through Oct. 1 at Avis Frank Gallery (1606 White Oak Dr.), explores architectural agitation through his site-specific installations.

“There’s a preciseness to architecture when you create blueprints,” says Havel, who relocated here from Minneapolis in ’91. His brother is Joseph Havel, the accomplished sculptor and director of MFA’s Glassell School. “When you move into the house, you disrupt the architecture by living in it.”

Homewrecker includes mini-houses of Styrofoam coated with synthetic rubber that Havel buys from Home Depot (“one of my favorite art-supply stores”) and swathed with black paint, giving them a charred feel. The show also features large-scale pieces in which he layers drawings upon drawings in something like advanced collaging.

“I also use floor plans; one piece incorporates the floor plan of Avis Frank. You can mine information from spaces,” says Havel, who works out of a home studio in the Heights, where he lives with his painter wife Sharon Willcutts, the studio arts coordinator at Episcopal High. Their teen daughter attends St. John’s. Havel, when he’s not teaching or making art, is an avid cyclist and frequent diner at the Heights’ Teotihuacan and Onion Creek cafes.

While Havel hints that a new Havel Ruck Projects installation might be coming to Discovery Green in September 2014, the partnership has been taking a breather, partially so Havel could concentrate on his solo exhibit. “I’ve been able to drop the collaborative side of my work and confront the work on an individual level,” he says. “I’ve been excited about it.”