Michael Hayes' lovely textured abstracts really caught my eye for his simultaneous attention to depth and flatness, achieved through layers of paint and careful color selections, all the while keeping us aware of -- yet questioning-- the surface. He is currently based in Charleston, SC.
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Hi Michael! So what first put you on the path to painting? Have you always been interested in art in some way or another?
I think I've always been into art in some way, although at times I may not have realized it. Both of my parents are graphic designers so it was definitely in the background growing up. I did a lot of drawing in high school, but I never considered a career in fine art until later. It all kind of clicked for me when I was in college and got a part time job working in an art supply shop. I dabbled with all the different materials until finally getting really interested in painting.
You describe your process as intuitive; can you tell me more about that? How do you get started on a piece?
I start by completely covering the surface with random marks and colors. Then I respond to those original marks by adding subsequent layers of paint. It's important to me that the painting experience feels experimental and exploratory so I try to keep myself from holding the reins too tightly at first. I like to allow my paintings to unfold organically. I’m not just a brush person either, I use a variety of different tools and materials when I’m painting to manipulate the surface. I also use a lot of subtractive techniques too, so the removal of paint is often times as important as the application of it. Working this way yields a lot of strange results that I find add to the complexity of the painting. Inevitably, something interesting emerges out of that process and becomes the dominant subject of the piece. It's almost like feeling your way around a dark room until you finally find the light switch.
Who or what are some of your major influences? Or mentors?
I could list so many, but pretty much all of the post war AbEx painters - especially guys like Rothko, Pousette-Dart, Gorky, and Baziotes. They are my heros. I’m also really into the old school European dudes like Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Braque.
Your palette is quite varied, but your compositions are often comprised of various abstract forms that seem to float around and simultaneously be contained by their borders of different hues. When did you first start experimenting with this style?
About a year ago. I took a break from nonrepresentational painting to experiment with still lifes. Before that my works had more of an all-over composition, but after the still life paintings I became much more interested in geometry and composition. After returning to abstract painting, I started to notice areas in my paintings where certain colors and differences in contrast would meet to create the suggestion of a form. I began isolating these areas and the result was these floating forms. This has since opened the door for further experimentation and I'm becoming much more calculated with how I trace out the shapes. I'm really trying to control the position of the forms more. I would like to incorporate more drawing into my process as well, perhaps with oil crayons or using sgraffito. As far as my palette goes, color is such a crazy thing. I try to create color combinations that are interesting to me, even if they don't necessarily make sense in a formal way. I look at Rothko a lot and he's helped me out quite a bit in the color department.
What do you like most about oil as a medium?
Well you spend a lot of time waiting for layers to dry - which for me is a good thing because I can only push a layer so far before the whole painting is wet and I have to stop. It forces me to work on several canvases at once which keeps the work consistent. I find that for me acrylic is too cooperative and easy to control, while oil tends to do its own thing and fight you a bit. I also have a deep reverence for the painters of the past, and when I work with the same materials they used, I feel connected to them. I can imagine Matisse sitting in his studio, smelling the same turpentine and linseed oil that I smell when I walk into mine. It is important to me that I walk in that tradition.
What is your studio or workspace like? How much time do you typically spend there?
I paint in my garage, which is great because I work from home as a graphic designer. I’m in and out of the studio during the day, but I probably spend a total of 3-4 hours on average painting each day. The garage itself is quite small, measuring only about 9’ x 10’, so I have to keep it minimally furnished with only a flat file, taboret, small card table, and canvas rack. I forfeited an easel to save floor space, and instead hang works in progress directly on the wall. One day I would hope for a larger space so I could work on much larger paintings, but for now I am grateful for my current situation.
What do you feel is the most important thing you need as an artist?
I really enjoy the whole culture around painting, and when I visit other artist’s studios or hear them talk about their work and process, it inspires me to get to work. I try to stay current with articles about exhibitions and various other things happening in the contemporary art world as much as possible, because seeing all the different things people are out there creating gives me inspiration and fuel for the fire. Sometimes when I’m stuck, just hearing the way another artist describes something they're working on, or the way they’re thinking about and looking at their work, can unclog any creative block I might be having. Some great resources I frequent are sites like painterstable.com or gorkysgrandaughter.com. Blogs like this one are really great too, or even Instagram.
What do you wish you knew more about?
Probably color. I really don’t think anyone can master all the nuances of color even if they spent their entire life working on it. Right now I use a lot of bold and vibrant colors, but I think as my work matures over the course of my life and I develop more of a sensitivity to the properties of color that may change.
What do you consider to be the most challenging or difficult part of pursuing your art?
I guess I’d say the business side of it. There are two things happening with an art career, all of the fun and magical stuff that happens in the studio and then all of the marketing, networking, social media, applying to shows, etc. You have to make sure everything is operating at 100% to maximize your chances of success. It’s difficult to give the business side all the attention it deserves because what little time we get to spend on our art after our day jobs, families, and other obligations we’d rather be making the art itself, not fine tuning our websites or searching for opportunities. It’s so important though, because at the end of the day you’ve got to get your stuff out there in front of people.
In the other direction, is there a moment that you consider to be your greatest accomplishment so far?
My wife and I had our first child a little over a year ago. Becoming a parent is easily another full time job. It was rough at first but I managed to get up at 4:30 every morning and paint for a couple of hours before my 9-5. I did that for about a year until I was recently able to start working from home. I’m so grateful because it really disciplined me as an artist. Now I feel like no matter how busy my life gets, I know I can still hone in and get it done in the studio.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
Not now, but hopefully that will soon change. I just finished my first solo show in September and it was a really great experience. I received some helpful feedback from some of the other artists in my community. I was definitely in production mode and cranking out work for that. Now I'm shifting back into being a little more experimental while trying to line up exhibitions for next year.
Find more at michaelcliffordhayes.com!
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