If I were to sum up Lauren Hayes’s work with one word it would be: brave. Hayes maintains the perfect balance of physical and mental nudity with static ambiguity in order to pull the viewer into the painting’s narrative. By pulling content from her own personal life, Lauren Hayes successfully conveys a universal human experience unified by states of vulnerability.
“I work from myself a lot. I think there is something that feels dishonest when I work from somebody else. Like this one is the only one here where I actually didn’t use my own body.”
“I feel like I’m being dishonest when I don’t use myself because at least with me I know that I wont offend my emotional history by pulling away from it. But I feel really strange when I don’t use myself.”
When I stepped foot into her studio, the first thing I saw were beautiful red brush strokes around the profile of a soft face. Even unfinished, this painting is beautiful.
“I just started this painting. It has a long way to go. It took me a long time for me to figure out how I wanted the composition to be. So it’s a little muddied. But I like the backspace how there’s this kind of figure. A seductive corps thing started to happen which I really like but I think its time to hone those painting skills in the front and get some weedy sheets.”
“What I’m dealing with is a sense of realism that is accessed through ambiguity. But for that to really be reached I think it has to be somehow tied into something tangibly recognizable whether it’s represented or if its just an engaged stare if it’s a certain color or and actual depiction of a personal space or a figure or whatever it is.”
“I think by having that tangible something, that’s then the less tethered emotional concept can be realized. So its not the actual quality or the depiction of whatever is recognizable. For this it’s not the actual bed or the person laying down that you really need to get, its what abstractions are there to access that deeper content.”
The combining of realistic figures in an abstract environment to create an “emotional concept” has been successfully executed in Lauren’s past work. One in particular that had drawn me to Lauren’s work in the first place was featured in her past exhibition In Comfort.
“That painting was definitely a big turning point for me. I was having a really tough kind of year with lots of big things happening at once and its just really hard to work full time go to school then deal with the partner I was living with.”
“And handling that was sort of an emotional trauma and a life changing moment while also being a fulltime student and a full time worker and then being expected to be making paintings all the time and never really dealing with emotional stress. So this painting followed this period.”
“I actually didn’t make a single thing for three weeks. I sat in here in a chair and just looked at things. I looked at a lot of shows but I did not make anything. So that painting is on top of another painting that I started right before that period. I like the palette a lot but it was doing felt really disconnected.”
Lauren is successful in working with the disconnected feeling by further emphasizing it with the static feel she creates with the paint. It is connected yet disconnected at the same time. Connected because the painting effectively conveys that feeling that perhaps can be understood as something universal while at the same time disconnected because the actual painting is conveying this sort of feeling.
“And I kind of just started doing it and it was a really vulnerable experience that I had gone through. But I was really cold when I made it. I was keeping that in mind and thinking about the body language of it. The parts of my body that I was targeting are the ones I’m most uncomfortable with. And I was kind of just allowing the paint to be really thin with these kind of uncomfortable colors. And I wanted it to be ghost like. Like a memory or something like an intangible experience that becomes a self reflective experience to look at.”
“I try to keep everything to allow the viewer to project themselves into the space or as the figure or even to be a voyeur. Because even if this doesn’t feel like a mirror to somebody at least someone can feel like a voyeur into my own psyche because you could be doing this as me instead of you. I mean that’s kind of a really tough emotion to share with somebody. It’s a really private anxiety.”
“Someone told me that the way I make paintings is really serious and that I only work with these really serious themes. I don’t make funny paintings which is strange because I’m pretty light hearted and emotionally calm almost all the time.”
A painting appearing particularly emotional depicts a figure with multiple faces as if in motion.
Once again Hayes successfully creates a static environment in the image setting the painting within a moment in time. The painting seems to capture one frame out of many. The narrative seems to keep moving beyond what we see in the painting.
“What’s interesting is some of them are completely fabricated emotions. Like if think about if you watch a movie and there’s laughter and tears and everything in between. Everybody is an actor there are lights around them there’s a director and a producer, there are a bunch of assistances there’s like another thirty people in the room you don’t seen. But you’re sitting there sobbing and there are these people totally faking it. I think that’s what I’m talking about with realism being the access to artifice. Everything about this is completely a fib. It was my roommate giggling and taking photos and drinking wine. And it was completely invented I was probably a little cold then when I made this painting. But the resulting image is that.
“And that’s really interesting to me that you can get to something that is so real and human and it’s a complete lie. But is it a lie any more? Now that it exists?”
Because Hayes based this piece off of experimental photographs rather than a foundational emotion or situation, the ways in which it can be read are expanded.
‘It’s not this feeling of being pulled apart or confined depending on how you look at this painting. Maybe you feel the figure is being bounded or trapped or in some weird transitional phase where somebody has multiple personalities. Its like whatever you look at, those things are real. And they’re represented here. I invented, tricks, if you will to get there. It was very intentional so maybe in the end it means something. “
The last piece Lauren pulled out from behind a stack of canvas began with a stronger initial intent yet offers just as much room for multiple readings. Much of Hayes’s work focuses on a human subject, so I was surprised to see a piece that made the space of a room the central point.
“I was thinking a lot about empty spaces. I was painting half empty spaces in my living room. There is a ghostly figure. It was a like a memory in a present space, I presently live there. And I was making a painting of who used to live there. Because the shifting of space, when I first moved in there made me feel really uncomfortable in my home.”
“My home was uncomfortable. So I was painting myself, as a lost image in it was my intention. Again that is really specific as to why I made the painting but it’s not necessarily what the painting means. This one has the most narrative I think and its quiet. It’s very slow with the light and the daytime.”
“You can see one bookcase is empty and one is full. And there’s a cat in there. That’s the first time I threw an animal into anything. Just one. Even though this is so quiet talking and writing about a painting is just as important as making a painting. I’m glad that this paintings so slow.”
Lauren draws attention to specific items in the room rather than the living subjects. The cat and the person are thinly painted with simple strokes unlike the chair and empty bookcase. The furniture looks empty and cold contributing to the uncomfortable feeling attached to the space.
“Someone else could also read this painting as a story of someone who has died which is way more dramatic. When I look at a painting that’s not mine I do tend to invent an entire narrative or more than one. This painting is just about discomfort in what was intended to be a comfortable space”