A conversation with Gregory Hayes.
Perfection is everywhere. Its limits come from the perception of the thinker.
Gregory Hayes is interviewed by Editor in Chief Alice Zucca
“Perfection is everywhere. Its limits come from the perception of the thinker.”
Gregory Hayes explores the endless chromatic possibilities of painting by creating an original method of analysis which focuses on the study of gestures through painting and geometric analytical compositions.This process is done often using a dropper and acrylic colors, small drops are meticulously placed on a grid while layers of paint blend in the bottle. Therefore this results in drops of color which are the combination of various chromatic elements that blend in a swirl generating unusual and unexpected variations.When looked from a distance and as a whole the drops seem to blend in a single entity but they remain identifiable as single units when the viewer gets close to the work and looks at it in detail. The artist displays his skills by using structures which can be identified by looking at the marks left with a pencil revealing the grids where the drops of color are placed. Every element is a swirl of color which is unique and it’s part of the complexity of the entirety, still remaining harmonious as if it was a small complex painting itself which is able to reinforce the feeling of balance of the whole composition. Every drop, being made of multiple colors, escapes the rigorousness of the painting gesture. By trying to achieve the optimal formal precision the artist finds himself aware of the fact that such is unreachable. And it is this almost paradoxical contradiction which Hayes finds perfect in itself. In every series of Hayes’ paintings conscious choices and randomness coexist in a sublime formal symbiosis which leads to unpredictable scenarios that define original archetypes.
Coming from the experience of the American abstract expressionism the gestural component becomes a key element of your paintings and your artistic research. In your works two aspects seem to coexist, a rigorous method and a randomness since the drops, due to gravity and their unpredictability in their positioning and their movement onto surfaces, somehow slip from your control. At the same time, for example in the “Color Array” series, you try to limit their freedom with a predetermined scheme. How much is planned and how much is left to freedom and to the flow of inspiration in your compositions? Can you talk about the technique you use and how you prepare the base for your works?
I do plan in the way I make art, but within the structures I create I leave room for possibilities. In my work I strive for exactness, but perhaps it is paradoxical that in striving for perfection—and never reaching it—it is there that you actually find it. But perfection starts to look different. For me this is a key element in my artwork. It is the imperfect that becomes unique, the flaws that become interesting, the randomness that leads to new ideas. Perfection as an ideal is a limited perspective, but very ingrained in us all—very powerful. So to widen, or change, its hold on our ideas it could allow us to use this power to see more of the beauty that is around us everyday. Perfection is everywhere. Its limits come from the perception of the thinker. For me perfection is allowing each mark I make to reveal itself in that moment. I have a pretty good idea of what I’d like things to look like, but I let it be open, to bend or flow as it needs to. Being ok with that—the boundary between control and lack of control— is what I’d consider perfect.
How did you come up with the idea of using a dropper?
In my early days of making art I had no formal training in technique. I had done some line drawing and charcoal sketching of flowers and still life at a community college near Buffalo, New York in my late teens, but I had never yet painted. My knowledge was very limited. When I was 24 years old, I started to experiment with painting at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in Denver, Colorado, while trying to complete a degree. I really didn’t know how to use a paintbrush (beyond house painting), or oil or acrylic paint, or any mediums really, so I started to experiment with what was around me or what was on the material list for some of the painting classes I was enrolled in. I also didn’t really have a subject matter, so it all really became about understanding material in a matter-of-fact way.
I basically started formulating compositions using geometry similar to doodles I did on my folders and notebooks in high school when I should have been taking notes in class, and I began mixing acrylic paint colors that I found appealing—a lot of trial and error at this point. I was then introduced to the work of artists like Frank Stella, Al Held, Barnett Newman, Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, and Sol Lewitt. Seeing their work gave me many points of departure to move in. But what seemed to attract me most was organizing colors into groups, and finding out how they behaved and felt. The emotional impact of a painting through color seemed to be important to me and still is today. So from there I began to paint larger canvases with house painting techniques, using different brushes, painters tape, and the colors I had mixed. Afterwards I would always have leftover paint colors in glass jars. The jars never really kept the paint for too long so at a certain point I remember beginning to pour and drip the paint onto extra canvases I had made, I guess I didn’t want the paint to go to waste. Because of this, I really started to feel like I could organize the space on the canvases in a similar way I did with a brush, but with less effort. It allowed for a new kind of freedom in what I was doing. I could also drip the paint into round circles very easily. From then on I started to organize the compositional elements of my paintings using circles from dripping paint from jars.
While I was attending Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design, the head of the painting department, Clark Richert, would often visit my studio to see what I was doing. He became a mentor to me and we would often talk about painting through math and science, and geometry. He was also a painter, so one day he walked into my studio with a small plastic bottle with a small nozzle, like a paint pen, that he had been using in his work to draw circles. He just gave it to me without any explanation and said, “What do you think you can do with this?” I began playing around with the small bottle and I realized that I could drip paint from it with remarkable control; so from there I began to use it to make all my works. My first series of painting I created with this technique was called “Vibrations.” In these works you can see how I was exploring the possibilities the drip bottle gave me in regards to size of each drop.
What made you shift from the use of a grid to a fluid movement? Can you talk about the Amalgamation, Ribbon and Reticulum series?
My earlier series of paintings are the most systemic in nature. In my Primary Array paintings a majority of the process is based on a mathematical formula called Ulam’s Rose. It creates the overall pattern you see on the canvas. I also created specific rules to disperse the color throughout the painting on a hand drawn ¼ inch grid that covers the whole surface of the canvas. I did this because I needed justification for my decisions. I needed reasons for my movements, and it felt more comfortable relying on systems. Although, the selection of the colors were always up to me, this was and remains an intuitive process, or as I like to say, a refined intuition—one that has years of experience behind it but still allows feeling to drive it.
When I shifted to the Color Array series I simplified the systems. In these paintings I used the ¼ inch grid for the compositional structure directly, by dripping paint in a spiral, starting from the center of the canvas moving outward, placing the drips within each cell successively. In these paintings I also started dripping swirling colors of paint instead of using one color at a time. A drip now could have 3 or more colors in it. I felt this brought more probability into the works. The spiraling of the drips and the changing swirling colors creates concentric square patterns with softly shifting hues that seem to make the paintings breath in and out when they are viewed from a distance. When viewed up close they highlight the complexity that each single drip holds on its own.
As I started making my next series, Amalgamation, I felt I needed to find a way to have more freedom in the placement of the drips. So I decided to extract the grid and use a more intuitive manor of distributing the paint. I began dripping the paint in a motion like a snake swims through water, an “S-like” motion, from one end of the canvas to another trying to fill up the entire surface with ¼ inch drips of swirling color. I also started to use more colors in each painting. For example, in my Color Array paintings I chose 3 or 4 colors to work with, but in the Amalgamation paintings I use up to 40 colors sometimes, making the color exploration more complex. Each series I create, I am trying to work away from the systemic process, and more toward an intuitive one.
For the Ribbon paintings and Reticulum works I wanted to find new ways to use paint, and distribute color on the picture plan. Both series involve a similar process of creating small ribbons of acrylic paint, either solid colored or swirled colored, about 12 inches long and ¼ inch wide, that can be picked up and arranged before it is pasted on the surface of a canvas permanently. The Ribbon paintings are fixed onto the surface in a more orderly way, putting more emphases on the color relationships. The Reticulum paintings are more about the weaving of the ribbons in an intuitive way, and about my physical manipulation of the ribbons because I am bending and twisting them. Overall, these paintings reveal to me that even a slight variation in the order of a process can create new pictorial complexity. Ultimately, creating theses newer work has helped teach me to make even better use of my intuition, and depend less on the systemic processes that defined much of my earlier work. By opening up my process in this way, I challenge myself as a painter and hopefully push painting as a whole further. Additionally, I feel the viewer will be able to engage with my paintings on a more emotional, rather than technical, level.
Color has a fundamental role in your compositions, what is the relationship between the color and the final result and to what extent the choice of colors is based on a chromatic study?
My paintings are mostly about color, and the interaction of color. When choosing the colors for a painting I rely mainly on intuition. However, I have been immersed in my process for over a decade so there is a lot about how I think of color that comes from experience. Another thing I consider is the physical paint properties itself. For example, sometimes different colors have different viscosities when they come out of the tube, and can effect how they interact or flow with other paint as I drip them. This can create different types of swirls and a variety of color patterns unique to certain color combinations. Even the brand of paint can changes things. The different attributes change the outcome of a painting, which I find very exciting. Most of the time I like to explore color combination that I have not tried yet—to see how far I can push them. I often like to choose a set of colors to work with before I start, sometimes 3, sometimes 30; depending on what series I am painting. The end result of my process is a field of resonating colors that can take-up the viewer’s whole vision when the painting is viewed as a whole, or can be a very intimate experience by viewing each dot one-at-a-time. The colors in a painting interact in different ways depending on the colors in each dot and how they gradate into the preceding ones, as well as, what other colors end up surrounding it. I hope for my paintings to provoke emotions through the colors. An important one for me is joy. I get a great sense of joy as I create the works and want that to come through. However, each painting can have a very different feel to it, and can provoke many emotions in the viewer. The will of the artist is not always a fixed experience for the viewer.
The visual impact of your works as a unity of undertones, and the colors and the patterns which emerge as they blend is able to create a stimulation in the viewer and psychic and emotional response through the impact of geometric shapes and color. Can you tell me more about this aspect? What do you want the viewer to experience while looking at one of your works?
I like how a flower can be so expressive. The variety of intensity and value in a flower’s color, and the complexity of its shape make it seem like each petal is a unique composition, each stem a random happening. Although when you look at it from a different perspective, a majority of the flower’s properties come from a systemic configuration: its patterns, color, and form are built from repetition and regularity. The magic of the flower is the balancing act maintained so well between its systemic and expressive nature. That to me makes looking at a flower an almost endless activity; a single blossom is an abundant display of beauty and mystery. Its shapes and colors constantly reveal the magnitude of details embedded in its mathematically fashioned form, but within the flower’s complexity there is an aura of effortlessness. It is this type of balance I strive to realize in my paintings. I want the colors to allure and captivate, but also to create tension and disarray; the structure to hold symmetry and balance, but also bend and wane organically. I would like the patterns to keep the viewer’s eye moving through the picture plane, or lead to fixating on a complex grouping of colors. However, the paintings are not necessarily about concentration or constant stimulation for the mind, or figuring something out. Rather, they are a place where the eye and mind can come across a sense of joy and stillness, a place where color and structure do not need to be thought about, but felt.
What are your future projects?
I just got back from spending the spring in Paris where I was working on a new set of Color Array paintings for a show out there. So I plan to use the summer to experiment with new ideas I have with paint and color, and to realize some new drawings. However, I will mainly be working towards my 4th solo show at the Nancy Margolis gallery in NYC opening February 2019.