David Hayes

American modern master David Hayes created graceful sculptures abstracted from organic forms over an artistic career that spanned six decades. His monumental outdoor sculptures contemplate the relationship between a work of art and the environment it occupies, and show the influence of teacher David Smith and friend Alexander Calder.

Born in 1931, Hayes worked for much of his life on a bucolic Connecticut farmhouse. From an early age he demonstrated unusual talent. At 20 he shifted his career from medicine to sculpture and at 30 he took his young family to Paris for study at the Louvre.

At 18, Hayes left home for Indiana. He quickly graduated from Notre Dame and immediately enrolled at Indiana University to pursue his Master of Fine Arts degree. In 1954, David Smith accepted a teaching position at Indiana with Hayes in his classes. Following formal studies, he would continue to work with Smith, now his friend, at Bolton Landing.

From his teacher Hayes mastered an appreciation for the permanence of steel. In Indiana, both Smith and Hayes learned about forging from a local blacksmith. Smith began his Forging Series in 1955, and continued to create his revered Tanktotems. Hayes forged his own animal forms, sculptures that were quickly accepted into shows at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum’s inaugural exhibition in 1959.

Hayes received his MFA in June 1955, and spent the next two years in the Navy. Following service, he returned to Coventry, Connecticut and took up his welding torch. Over the next few years, he received numerous awards for his work, including the Logan Prize for Sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961 and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. That same year he was awarded both a Fulbright Scholarship for study in Paris and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Hayes packed his bags and left for Paris in 1961 with wife Julia and two babies. There he regularly visited Calder who lived in central France. He also crossed the Channel to meet with Henry Moore, and interacted with Giacometti in Paris. All the while he continued making forged steel sculpture and began an aggressive show schedule in Paris and the US under the Willard Gallery and the David Anderson Gallery.

On returning to the US a decade later, he moved from forged steel to cut steel plate as it allowed him to go larger. He continued an enormously prolific career and has work housed in a hundred institutional collections across America. Following his death in 2013, he now averages about one solo museum exhibition a month.

Matt Kendall