Art Week

Coventry Artist David Hayes Starts With Drawings Before Evolving Into Three-Dimensional Artworks

December 07, 2011|By SUSAN DUNNE,, The Hartford Courant

David Hayes' sculptures have names: "Quadrant," "Oracle," "Blue Inchworm," "Triad," "Rouge et Noir." But those names are just a means of identifying the sculptures for his own reference. He wants viewers to ignore the names and interpret them any way they please.

"I don't think you should use a name to fend off a possible reaction by someone to the work," Hayes said in an interview at Goodwin College in East Hartford, where a new installation of 13 of his outdoor sculptures will be unveiled this week. "Someone else could have a rational reaction that you never thought of as an interpretation. The pieces can mean anything you want."

Hayes' abstract works — made of half-inch steel plates cut with an acetylene torch and colored with Rustoleum paint — are noteworthy for their ability to elicit an immediate visceral reaction, even a physical reaction. Unlike many sculptures, Hayes' works are made to be placed outside, exposed to the elements, in populated settings, where they will be touched. His son, whose name also is David, adds: "Little kids come up to them running with their arms open. They want to climb on them."

Hayes, 80, welcomes such reflexive receptions. "Forget intellectualization," he said. "Go with your visceral feelings, your emotive responses."

Hartford-area art lovers will be familiar with Hayes from his large-scale sculpture sitting in front of the Hartford Public Library on Main Street. Ann Zajchowski, executive assistant to Mark Scheinberg, said the college loves the outdoor nature of Hayes' works "because they blended so beautifully with our river setting," and said the initial drive to bring the sculptures to the school was spearheaded by Father John Rohan, a school trustee, whose parents were good friends with Hayes' parents.

Hayes, who was born in Hartford in 1931 and has lived in Coventry since 1968, honed his artistic sensibility while attending postgraduate school at the University of Indiana, where he studied under David Smith, the abstract sculptor who was a pioneer in working with welded metal.

Smith was fascinated by the places where painting and sculpture overlap, and one of his most famous rallying cries was that the two art forms differed in only one way: sculpture was three-dimensional.

Hayes' artistic leanings, and working methods, give credence to that ethos. (Along with Smith and Alexander Calder, he cites as his influences Picasso, Braque and Matisse.) Hayes, who started working with flat steel sheets in the 70s, starts his creative process with two-dimensional ink-and-gouache colored drawings. The "ones I feel most emotionally attached to," Hayes says, evolve into cardboard patterns, and then sculptures, which usually are not colored the same way as his drawings.

Hayes is especially focused on the empty spaces created by the interplay of his metal plates. "Vacant spaces are as important to me as the actual physical shape itself," he said, pointing to his work "Quadrant." "A sculpture should be something you walk around 360 degrees, getting a different perspective from all angles.

"Look at the vacant spaces from this angle," he said, circling the work. "And then from this one, and this one. They're all different."

Hayes said that in addition to the flexibility of interpretation by viewers of his work, he also appreciates the flexibility of the artworks themselves.

"I feel an affinity to them, a kinship with them, because if they're not right, I can change them," he said. "When you make a bronze casting, what is cast is what it turns out to be. One piece, in fact, ("Blue Field Figure") is made with other pieces I wasn't happy with."

< back