David Hayes ­ Sculpture at the Pingry School
October 16 ­ November 26, 1996

Screen Tests

Ideally, artists provoke the public to stretch toward novel ideas, ideas that may prove unsettling, ideas that might not otherwise be considered. David Hayes' current exhibition of evocative Screens challenges viewers carrying the baggage of expectations as much as those without preconceptions. What does one make of his buoyant imagery? The Director of London's Tate Gallery once answered someone's criticism by suggesting it was the visitor, not the art that was on trial. Hayes enjoys the diverse reactions to his work ­ even negative ones. His recent Screen sculptures and a group of related drawings measure our experience, imagination and visual literacy.

David Hayes has a distinctive handwriting. It is possible to see birds, leaves or patterns of pure abstract form as structural elements in his infinitely repeatable alphabet. Whatever one's reading, there is an unmistakable authority about the work. Small calligraphic Screen macquettes mounted on the gallery walls and a freestanding interior piece are echoed by a selection of large screen sculptures arranged in the adjoining courtyard. Each is painted black, yet somehow reflects its environments. Each is stationary steel, alive with motion. The only flashes of color are in surely concentrated, free-flowing drawings. Hayes' assembly of fanciful structures are essentially frontal. Abstract modules that derive from nature, sweeping curves rather than straight lines, are arranged in such a way that the negative spaces become equally dynamic, equally important. Solid forms and the void between them create a tightly woven, boldly conceived façade, a sort of two-dimensional architecture.

The roots of Hayes' iconography trace back to Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Julio Gonzales, Alexander Calder, Chinese calligraphy, Abstract Expressionism and above all, David Smith, the great pioneer of welding in America. After graduating from Notre Dame, Hayes studied with Smith while earning an MFA at the University of Indiana. "He was a marvelous influence on the working artist," Hayes said. "He worked until 2 a.m., then in class gently encouraged students. Yeah, he was something." Hayes would follow Smith's advice, "Draw every day, just like a musician practicing scales." A 1961 Fullbright allowed Hayes to study in Paris. During the next 7 years, Guggenheim and National Society of Arts and Letters grants made it possible to live in Europe, creating ceramic wall pieces, carving stone and producing tapestries and lithographs. But, like Gonzales and Smith before him, Hayes would become a "master of the torch," developing his own signature style in steel.

David Hayes has had over 70 solo exhibitions and numerous national and international shows. He is represented in over 100 prestigious collections including: Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Wadsworth Atheneun and the National Museum of American Art. Hayes believes that art should not be confined to museums, but become part of everyday life. His bold, large scale steel structures in front of the Hartford Public Library and outside Notre Dame's Snite Museum are typical of his artistic interventions, enlivening city plazas, college campuses, corporate buildings and public spaces; they interact with the landscape, offering a humanizing moment of relief to often oppressive environments of official concrete and steel.

David and his wife Julia live in a 13 room, 18th century farmhouse on over 53 acres in Coventry, Connecticut. The meadows around their home are populated by 100 or more of his steel offspring. He enjoys walking among them in the changing light and seasons. The lively configurations of welded metal ­ black or painted in bright hues ­ are, he says, "connected with their surroundings, at one with nature." Begun in 1976, the Screens are as arresting as they are intimate. Parts intersect, airborne arcs seemingly move with acrobatic aplomb, revealing a harmonious pattern. They represent another risk and another expressive dimension in Hayes' deceptively simple repertoire. Interpreting the content may be elusive but the artist's ambitions remain clear. He speaks to us in many guises yet with a forceful, resonant voice.

Burt Chernow
Director Emeritus
Housatonic Museum of Art