Stephen Hayes

The Artists Series 4: Visual Artists

Ten more portraits in black and white by K.B. Dixon of Oregon artists who are helping to define what Portland and the state look like


TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


This is the fourth installment of portraits in The Artist Series. The first two focused on Oregon writers. Part 3 and this installment, Part 4, focus on visual artists—the gifted, award-winning painters, sculptors, and photographers who have made invaluable contributions to the cultural life of this city and state, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

For an introductory look at their work, I refer you to their digital digs—their virtual ateliers.


STEPHEN HAYES: PAINTER


A “deft blending of representation and sheer abstraction underpins Hayes’s eminence as a supreme kind of painters’ painter in the Pacific Northwest.” – Sue Taylor, Art in America.

Examples of Hayes’s work can be found at the Elizabeth Leach Gallery and at https://www.stephenhayes.net

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Interview in a Time of Sequestration

A Photographer Talks to Himself About Shadows and the Mysteries of Black & White


ESSAY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY K.B. DIXON


It seems much of your work is focused on the cultural life of your city and state?

Yes, it is. To paraphrase that much revered Southern snake-charmer, William Faulkner, I discovered my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth photographing and that I would probably never live long enough to exhaust it.

So why black and white?

When I am obliged to talk about my photography—which isn’t that often, thankfully—I almost always start off with a discussion of my antediluvian preference for black and white. I do this because the question “Why black and white” is almost always the first one asked in the Q&As that invariably follow these talks, and I am hoping to preempt it, to cut it off at the pass as they say in Cowboy, because more often than not it is asked with an antagonizing hint of disapproval. It is a question that used to catch me by surprise. It doesn’t any more. My answer to it is always short. Black and white are for me—as they were for the famously crusty Robert Frank—the colors of photography.

Omar El Akkad, Writer, 2019.

Where Frank saw black and white as symbolizing hope and despair, I see them as augmenting our perception of form and content. Color, as we commonly think of it, is information. Lots of it. Black and white is an abstraction. When you subtract color you focus attention on form and content—on graphic order and psychological subtlety. For me black and white simply has a greater emotional and intellectual impact.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: past imperfect, present tense

In the Northwest, images of horror and hope from the past and present. Plus a West Side story, a flamenco flourish, and a divine voice.

ARTSWATCH IS ABOUT ARTS AND CULTURE IN OREGON: It’s embedded in our name. But culture is a fluid thing, coming at us from all corners of the world, and, through our libraries and museums and musical notations, from the enduring fragments of previous times and places. It comes to us. We go to it. Everything mingles in the process. One of our number is on the nothern tip of the Olympic Peninsula right now, a ferry ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, where depending on the weather she might be greeted on the shoreline by a bagpiper in a kilt (although the Unipiper remains a resolutely Portlandian attraction, rain or shine, sleet or snow). Another ArtsWatcher is working her way across Andalucia, taking hundreds of pictures as she goes. Our music editor is settling back into the gentle rains of the Pacific Northwest after a sojourn in Bali with some masters of the gamelan.  

Parmigianino, Antea, ca. 1535, oil on canvas, 53.7 x 33.8 inches, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples; at the Seattle Art Museum through Jan. 26, 2020.

On occasion we indulge in a quick trip north to Seattle, and in case you do the same, you might want to drop in on the Seattle Art Museum, where the exhibition Flesh & Blood: Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum opens today and hangs around through January 26. It time-travels through Renaissance and Baroque Europe, and includes 39 paintings and a single sculpture from the collections of the Naples museum.

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Visual Arts 2018: The big picture

2018 in Review, Part 7: From museums to studios to brave new spaces, a recap of some of ArtsWatch's views and reviews from a year in art

The visual arts stories at ArtsWatch this year ranged far and wide and – as usual – didn’t even come close to covering all that went on in the world of Oregon art. While some may see that as a failure, we choose to see it as a windfall. We are fortunate to live in such an active arts community. If we could cover everything, it would mean a much smaller everything, and that doesn’t benefit anyone. Here is a neat (and incomplete) encapsulation of visual vrts stories in 2018.

We took you behind the scenes with interviews with Oregon artists that explored origins, processes, interests, and other machinations of established and emerging artists. Paul Sutinen interviewed, among others, Judy Cooke on the occasion of her fall show at Elizabeth Leach and Tom Prochaska on the occasion of his spring show at Froelick. Hannah Krafcik interviewed kiki nicole, and ariella tai about their work with the first and the last, an experimental film/video and new media arts project in Portland. Krafcik was then able to follow up in another interview with Jaleesa Johnston about her screening and workshop at the first and the last.

Judy Cooke, “Pink”, 2018, oil, aluminum, 14” x 10” x 1.5”

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People & Conversations 2018

2018 in Review, Part 3: ArtsWatch goes behind the scenes for conversations with 22 creators who talk about their lives and art

By Sarah Kremen-Hicks

Theaters have their curtains. Paintings have their frames. Books have their covers. The act of presentation, of framing, of giving things edges, shifts the subject to the work itself and hides the artist away, if only a little bit. ArtsWatch’s writers have spent the past year seeking out the artists behind the frames and bringing them to you. Here are 22 glimpses behind the curtain from 2018.

 


 

Michael Brophy in his North Portland studio, 2017. Photo: Paul Sutinen

A conversation with Michael Brophy

Jan. 3: Prominent Northwest painter Michael Brophy talks with Paul Sutinen in an interview that begins with being “the kid that drew” and becomes a meditation on medium and viewership:

Where did that lightbulb come on for you to say, ‘OK, I saw all that stuff in London and now I want to go to art school.’

I knew the minute I saw paintings, like in the National Gallery. The scale of things—my mind was blown by the size of things. An artist I don’t think about much, Francis Bacon, there was a room of Bacon’s paintings [at the Tate Gallery] and it terrified me. I didn’t know that art could do that. I had to leave the room. I had a kind of like a panic attack.

I think they call it ‘epiphany.’

Yeah, so after that I just knew what I was going to do. Just as simple as that.

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Stephen Hayes: A Guggenheim will fuel ‘In the Hour Before’

Local painter Stephen Hayes is awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, toward his 'In the Hour Before' project, which deals with violence in America. . .

A few days ago, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation named the recipients of its 173 Guggenheim Fellowships in the areas of scholarship, art, and science. Among 24 other painters from around the country who received this year’s honor was the Portland painter Stephen Hayes. Hayes has been working on a project, titled In the Hour Before, to reimagine depictions of spaces, sites, in painting.

In this body of work, now supported by the Guggenheim award, Hayes examines the violent American social context by depicting the sites of shootings—places like Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Roseburg, and others. This undertaking is for Hayes, a way to respond to the “grotesque reality of an escalating physical and social violence in America,” related specifically to “racial inequity, economic disparity” among other issues—as he described in proposing In the Hour Before to the Guggenheim Foundation.

Thanks to the award, Hayes is set to complete In the Hour Before, “traveling” by way of Google Earth, “to the burgeoning number of sites of shootings throughout the country, and making paintings in response to these places as they were witnessed benignly, without comment or bias, by the impersonal technology of cameras mounted on cars,” as the artist remarked.

Stephen Hayes, “Ferguson, MO 8-9-14,” 2017 oil/canvas 30”x 30”

This content marks ongoing change in Hayes’s work—as he described in his interview with our own Paul Sutinen last year — but his compositions retain a singular approach to discerning, rendering. “Such deft blending of representation and sheer abstraction underpins Hayes’s eminence as a supreme kind of painters’ painter in the Pacific Northwest,” wrote Sue Taylor in Art in America in September of 2016.

Hayes’s handling of paint treads the line between abstraction and representation, and his sense for the conceptual in painting always seems in keeping with his formal subjects. Hayes says that a painting “can pay poetic homage to the lives and places at the heart of each story. In fact, we are ALL at the heart of each of these stories. I believe that real solutions to this will only come from contemplation, reflection, deliberation, and conscious action.”

Hayes was included in More Than a Pretty Face: 150 Years of the Portrait Print at the Portland Art Museum in 2010, and also received the Hallie Ford Fellowship in Visual Arts in 2011. The Guggenheim is a national matter, and past Portland winners have tended to be writers: Paul Collins, Peter Rock, Tom Bissell, Dan O’Brien, among others. Each year since its inaugural year in 1925, some 3,000 applicants vie for the fellowship; Hayes’s award is no small thing to a working artist, teacher, adherent of visual art. The list of 2018 fellows — including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tyehimba Jess, writers Teju Cole and Min Jin Lee — can be read in its entirety on the foundation’s website. We caught up with Hayes to hear how news of the Guggenheim award has hit him.

Where were you when you learned of your having won the Guggenheim Fellowship Award?
I got the notification that my project had been forwarded to the Board of Directors for approval by email in the middle of an ordinary working day. I was in the middle of a Color Theory class and while on break I checked my email. I wasn’t sure that I was reading the message in the right way and was a little off balance. I had to forward it to Linda [Linda K. Johnson, Hayes’s partner] for interpretation!

In your interview with Paul Sutinen last year, you talked about your “ability to challenge your thinking or to find context for what it is you’re doing.” Is this award a landmark in your career, relative to your approach, how you’re working and seeing in the context of 2018?
The award would be a landmark for anyone. It recognizes decades of work already made, but more critically it provides spiritual and financial support for unseen work in the future. I am already deeply engaged with the project that I proposed to grow. In the Hour Before is a body of work unlike any other that I have made, and I am continuously looking to understand my relationship to the project, my process and its impact on me every bit as much as on you.

I really love what you had to say (last October) about beauty having very few limitations. How has this outlook changed since then?
I am as surprised as anyone that beauty can exist so seamlessly side by side with horror. It is very confusing. I find myself wondering if we don’t have the ability to see this dichotomy as some kind of a paradoxical safety net; part of our limbic brain that protects us in an almost prehistoric way.

What’s next for you in light of having won this award?
I am deep into the final term of teaching for the year and have plans to be more fully in my studio as soon as possible. In preparation for that day I am gathering information, making stretchers, stretching canvases, gathering materials and trying to share the moment generously with my family and friends. Once in the studio… it’s on.