Copyright 1998 The Hartford Courant Company

June 14, 1998 Sunday, STATEWIDE


LENGTH: 670 words


BYLINE: MATT DAMSKER; Special to The Courant

About 8 million people a year pour through Stamford Town Center's corridors of affluence -- from stylish New Canaanites to the old money of Westport and every demographic in between. This alone makes downtown Stamford a perfect site for public art that presses back, forcing a confrontation with the rushed pace of shopping and the no-eye-contact dynamic of urban hustle.

Now in its fifth year, Stamford's Sculpture Walk program is doing precisely that, with imposing artworks placed in the parks and plazas, and along the streets, in some cases forcing you to negotiate your passage around them as if stymied by a fellow pedestrian who's suddenly in your way. This year's art -- about 60 pieces -- is courtesy of Coventry's David Hayes, the venerable sculptor whose painted, bolted and welded steelworks have been exhibited and collected around the world. Hayes carries on the heavyweight abstract metal tradition of the great David Smith, with whom Hayes studied in the 1950s. Indeed, Smith's steely shadow is a long one, but Hayes has fashioned his own "vocabulary of nature," as he calls it, in his supple blades, fans and wings of steel, which range from brightly painted forms to earthen mattes and industrial blacks and grays.

For example, Hayes' 1989 "Gladiator," which stands challengingly on Stamford's Main Street, weds an airy scramble of red, yellow and blue forms -- they resemble Matisse cutouts -- with a corrugated steel texture. The result is playful and substantial, a conflation of shapes on the verge of taking flight yet resolutely occupying space. Similarly, the rusty corten steel of 1977's "Vertical Shadows" aspires skyward, like leaves funneling up from the ground, or like tears pouring down.

In many of these sculptures, Hayes evokes a beautiful tension between the earthbound and the spatially liberated, as in another vertical fantasy, "Painted Half Moons," which consists of precisely that -- five of them, climbing the wind in red, orange, yellow, blue and white. And where he is more seriously, monochromatically abstract -- the sharped-edge black bulk of 1988's "Geometric Field Figure," for instance -- he cuts a cagey suggestion of a human profile from the jagged scissorings of steel.

Of course, with so many of Hayes' works scattered through Stamford's downtown, there's no escaping repetitive rhythms, but after a while it's like bumping into familiar body types more so than re-encountering the same old stuff. The masterly latticework of the various "Screen Sculpture" series, most of which represent Hayes in the mid-1990s, occupies a triangular park area between Main and West Park Place with delicate, cascading forms that seem about to reveal themselves as birds, flowers or fish. Meeting and being forced to acknowledge these transformations in the course of walking around town is the ultimate pleasure of this sprawling display.

In his catalog essay for the exhibition, Carter Ratcliff takes the measure of Hayes' wizardry in the context of the Sculpture Walk: "Looking from one metal shape to the next, we see -- or feel -- a continuity, a flow of sculptural energy. As these shapes proliferate, the currents multiply and intermingle -- and we sense that invisible gestures have been made or, in a sense, are still being made, by the sculpture itself. These works are like tangles of vines or groves of trees. Hayes' more figurative sculptures confront us. These offer to envelop us."

Ultimately, these 60 pieces amount to a more impressive and meaningful retrospective of David Hayes' art than one could imagine in even the most congenial and spacious of museum interiors. Hayes, who regularly sites his work for view on the grounds of his Coventry residence, has always invoked the additive power of a natural setting in completing the experience of his sculpture. Here in Stamford, spread strategically around town, Hayes' totems interrupt our urban rush and commandeer our sidelong glances with suave invitations to slow down and see.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO: (b&w); "SCREEN SCULPTURE #83" is one of 60 sculptures by Coventry
artist David Hayes on display throughout downtown Stamford.