Sculpture in the Library

An exhibition by David Hayes
October 8, 1979 ­ January 31, 1980
The University of Connecticut, Storrs

Painting is done on a two-dimensional surface. Figures and three-dimensional space (depth) are simulated in various ways by the painter. Sculpture is three-dimensional. It exists in real space. Sculpture needs adequate space to be seen properly from all sides; the background must be suitable, and not distracting.

David Hayes is highly skilled in relating sculpture to the surrounding space and environment. Fourteen of the sculptures in this exhibition were previously shown at Sands Point Park and Preserver on Long Island. The former Harry F. Guggenheim estate made a wonderful setting for them with its flat lawns and gently sloping areas. It was one of the most beautiful exhibitions of outdoor sculpture I have ever seen. The pieces were enhanced by the setting and at the same time the sculptures added a vitality to the earth and the nearby trees.

Hayes is inspired by nature; by trees, leaves, rocks, and perhaps even by clouds, but he simplifies them into abstract shapes and thereby makes them more meaningful. Therefore, when he exhibits his sculpture indoors they bring with them an essence of the outdoors, and their lines and curved shapes contrast with and enrich the rectangular elements ­ doorways, windows ­ that are part of every room.

But there is more to sculpture than design, space and setting. There is the element of feeling, the underlying expressive purpose of the artist. David Hayes' sculptures are born of sensitivity and passion. They are the products of a determined artist, working alone with heavy sheets of steel, guided by his technological skill. Art is the product of talent and tradition. Hayes has studied the art of the past as far back as the magnificent cave paintings of Lascaux, France. He knows the sculpture of Picasso and Calder; there are slight traces of their influence. Henry Moore once said that the artist inherits the art of the past but transforms it in creating his own art.

Two of Hayes' pieces placed near the entrance to the Library introduce one to this unusual setting for a sculpture exhibition. Hatchethead expresses aggression in a subtle way. The hatchet is a useful tool for chopping wood, but it is also, occasionally, used to chop up people. This grim implication is layered over with a pleasing design of intersecting vertical plates into which curved shapes have been cut. Add to this the surprising effect of the colors: gray-blue and red on one side with yellow and green on the other.

Flanking Hatchethead is Leaf Figure, #2. This is an unusual concept. It is like a cluster of large leaves or petals that has gently drifted to the ground. Then it has been transformed almost into a helicopter shape. As you walk around it the colors are different and the shapes seem to change.

Once you have entered the library you can either start your tour in the basement or on the top floor. (A round trip is recommended to see the exhibition properly). On the Basement Level there is a delightful piece called Red-Wing. You may think of it as a crane bent into a soft shape. Or you may see it as a bird feeding its young, at the same time, forming a semi-circle. Or you may enjoy it as an abstract shape, just as you do a huge, bent tree-limb. Nearby are Leaf Figure #3 and Black and White Landscape which are again, different and interesting combinations of shapes.

In the Plaza Lobby we meet five versions of Vertical Motif, one of the best groups Hayes has ever done. He refers to them as sentinels. They are tree shapes in which the trunk, branches and leaves are intermingled. Some of them tremble with joy, others droop with sadness. Nearby is Screen Sculpture #10. It is one of a series of screens, each dealing with different motifs, some suggesting birds, others fish. In each one the eye is led rapidly through the design in all directions.

On Level 1 there are Screen Sculptures #2 and #3. In addition, there is the distinctive Conquistador. The cylindrical shape rises grandly, dominated by the condor-silhouette, a symbol of force, conquest, and fearsome strength (in a moral sense) and steel is a suitable material for it. This is probably better as an indoor piece; it loses scale outdoors.

Chanticleer is on Level 2. The word comes from the French: "chante cler" (sing clear). This rooster can strut magnificently and crow emphatically. He reminds one of Mary Martin's friendly advice as Peter Pan: "Think happy thoughts and crow a little bit." Escargot is on Level 3. Each of Hayes' sculptures is different in design and the ideal viewer will examine them individually to understand how the parts relate to each other and to the unity of the structure. As the visitor does so he may or may not see references to natural forms; with Escargot we could think readily of a massive snail.

Finally, we come to Dragonfly on Level 4. It sits there as if stuck to the floor, but perhaps it will fool us, dart off, and disappear. The dragonfly is a beautiful insect and Hayes has transformed its thinness and delicacy into a graceful steel sculpture.

It is astonishing to learn how these are created. Hayes begins by making realistic drawings from nature. These are developed further in gouache drawings ­ peeling off the exterior layers of his subjects as his perception sharpens. Next he makes a small cardboard model. This is transformed into a larger model in steel about half-size for the finished piece that can be made fifteen feet in height. The transforming process can be compared to lining up paintings in the following order: Chardin, Cezanne, and Picasso next to a Calder sculpture.

There is another situation in which I would like to see David Hayes' sculptures. That is at midnight: to walk through the library and look at each one by the light of a candle. I believe some of these pieces would take on a brooding quality against the changing shadows, like the Conquistador. Others might begin to creep like the Escargot. And the Vertical Motifs could begin a silent dance in their solitary watch over the dead.

Gustave von Groschwitz
Former Director
The Carnegie Institute Museum of Art