PRINT May 1973

Gerald Hayes: The Creativity of the Psychological Eye

GERALD HAYES IS ONE OF a large number of individuals who no longer can be categorized as painters or sculptors, but of whom we must use the more general word artist. Some of these cannot even be called visual artists for their work may not be visual. Artists using sound, temperature, and air currents produce works which bring forth dependence on other senses. Looking at the works makes us realize we do not have to look at them. Hayes’ work is visual, although moving away from the standard esthetics for visual art.

Several years ago, Hayes considered himself a painter. His works were color-shape stained canvases, and getting larger. A they did he became increasingly aware of the physical nature of the process of painting: stretching, rolling, working on the floor, walking around the canvas, transporting. These processes impose a certain sculptural relationship to the painting act, and those works painted with the canvas on the floor lost a relationship to the act when hung on a wall.

It was this inconsistency that promoted a transition from painting into sculpture, beginning with modules on the floor. For a while, though on the floor, the works were still paintings, primarily in a two-dimensional existence. There was also a series of open grid works which showed a large concern with the surface and a variety of finishes dependent on the way the paint was applied. In 1968 Hayes did an outdoor work, Anticipating the Snowfall, by spreading four square tarps on the ground in a square pattern just before a predicted snowfall. He then removed them to leave the contrasting bare grass exposed. Through all of this work there was an expanding examination of the nature of materials, their specific properties, and the resultant application in use for making art.

In 1967, he made a work with white polystyrene panels attached to the walls at different measurements along their length. The panels would bend at their own weight level, could be bounced but would not break. This was followed by another work, attaching a series of 1’ x 8’ x 1/8” Masonite panels at various angles to the wall. The Masonite would also bend, but after six to eight hours would reach a stress factor (material fatigue) causing the top piece to break and fall to the floor. Other panels were added at intervals and the accumulation of pan Is on wall and floor was a sculpture of after effects, not just the artist’s, but also action of other forces.

This use of the nature of the material and effect of gravity as an outside force is apparent also in his work with polyethylene sheeting. Hayes’ one man show at Reese Palley in 1970 included a number of works using large sheets of the material. Some were attached to the walls with dowels at once extending them out from the walls and weighting the folds; others hanging from the ceiling in grid patterns; and the series of Space Envelopes. Hayes was represented in both the “Lucht Kunst” (Air Art) and “Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Elements of Art” exhibitions by Space Envelopes. As the viewer walked between the curving halves of the hanging polyethylene sheets, air pushed ahead by the body separated the halves making a passage space. It made visible an extension of one’s self usually unseen.

In these and other works in that period, Hayes made the transition from painter to sculptor in material use as well as visual presentation. The polystyrene and Masonite panels, the polyethylene sheets, were all essentially two-dimensional materials transformed to three-dimensional sculpture by his manipulation and by natural effects. A graphic example is his Sculpture Made From Paintings, 1971, of which he said:

I have collected, exhibited and eventually stored paintings by various friends and associates for several years. After fulfilling their initial visual purpose, they became real objects (physical) which had to be dealt with, either stored or discarded. Both seemed useless! To use an original creation for other ends seemed logical. Recycle art?! I have used three paintings made by three friends to be transformed into new sculpture. Their burden had become only physical at this point, so my use would enhance the material into a more ideal and new visual work. Some paintings were masonite which were cut and broken. The canvas was folded and rolled, making their physicality more obvious. The re-created creations were arranged as a group of various sculptures made from various friends’ paintings.

This imposing of flat into volume, one art form into another, verbal expression into sculpture is a consistent aspect of Hayes’ work. A 1971 work, Water Safety, is a group of 31 metal buckets arranged in five lines on the floor. Each bucket rests on a smaller tin can pedestal and contains water and one letter of the slogan, “water safety is of utmost importance.” The film letters either float, curl up on the surface, or sink to the bottom of the bucket, making the slogan unreadable for the most part. The old axioms about protecting ourselves from water dangers—drowning, contamination, etc.—are superseded by the precariousness of water. Water must now be protected from our pollution, and the water in the buckets is in danger of being spilt by careless walking around while viewing the work.

Hayes’ work has been becoming more personal and, when one considers the personal aspects with which he is concerned, more universal. The works may come from specific, private experiences but deal with common emotions: fear, joy, pain, etc. His work Terminal Friendship, 1970, is the most obvious case in point. It consists of photocopies of a postcard, a press release, birth certificate, and an official notarized declaration that Gerald Hayes is terminating his friendship with three people. In response to a card that may have been written in jest, he felt that it was an opportunity to make a formal, direct statement, as dramatically as possible, that would shake up awareness and question a generality of geographical prejudice in regard to origin of birth. He drew up the paper “Termination of Friendship,” had it notarized, and dispatched it to the three friends. Hayes sees the affinity between friendship and sculpture in the ability to be built up, cut away, or even dismantled or disintegrated over a period of time. In dealing with the delicacy of friendship and the various kinds of prejudice, major or minor, within everyone he enlarged an intimate relationship to include everyone.

A symbolic work in the context of more personal statements is his Lint-By-Product of 1970-71 (lint filter collection—Maytag “Halo of Heat” Portable Clothes Dryer). The work consists of the accumulation of lint removed from the circular filter from the dryer at various times. The slight variation of size and color—the thickness and width of the ring shape—is dependent on the number of times the dryer was used and the kinds of clothes dried. Each drying cycle produces a compact partial history of the clothes and wearers. Here in the rings is evidence of Gerald Hayes, the members of his household and lifestyle. Do detectives now have to take and examine the lint collections of washers and dryer, a once the pebble, the tobacco in the trousers’ cuff were evidence of the suspects’ activities to Holmes? Is the lint filter now more accurate in presenting a picture of someone than the camera?

No work of art exists on only one level and the Lint-By-Product and the Objects For A Process work are also making some comment about “found objects.” Since Duchamp we have had an acknowledgement of peoples’ inclination to accidentally find things and then deliberately set them up in an out-of-context, semiglorifying situation. Sometime objects were altered or pedestaled and others, too large or permanent to move, become “visual keepsakes” and are collected by documentation. In diverse ways they are changed from common objects to precious ones. Museums have been building large parts of their collections this way for years.

Gerald Hayes is performing the same service for people: taking seemingly common, ordinary aspects of life—fear, memory, daily living or working processes—and through a conscious act transforming them into something special or precious. This is not unique to Hayes as an artist or person. Presumably we all do it. It is the out-of-context presentation which is particular. To portray emotion on the face of a person through painting, sculpture, photography—is not unusual, we see emotion in faces. (I am taking the liberty of eliminating a large discussion about the emotive abilities of materials—i.e. marble.) To take emotion expressed verbally, make the letters of the words in three-dimensional form and stack line upon line on the floor making it unreadable is something else again (Three tacked Lines of a Found Poem, 1971).

The fact that in this and several other similar works the words are unreadable seems at odds with his statement of wanting to reveal more of himself. This is another part of the complexities of life and art with which he is involved. Today there is a great deal of talk about communication—being open—but just how much of that can and may be done. Are there many who do not want to keep art closed areas, any unopened pockets? Even to those who listen, are interested, care, we build quick mental fences to keep them out, to keep ourselves in.

In a conversation, Hayes commented that he was reacting to things very real in his life—soul, mind, inner fears—those things that make one function, in his art. That’s not new, it’s one of the things that art is all about. What is new for Hayes and other artists is the structuring of their work. The collecting of visions, images, thoughts to select, group, compose into a work of art had been done within formal structures of painting, sculpture, etc. The defining aspects of applying essentially two-dimensional layers of paint onto a two-dimensional canvas to present illusions of the artist’s experimental reality were the traditional structures. Whatever the other concerns may be, the painter was/is determinedly making a painting. These confines no longer exist. Hayes may have a majority of work which has a three-dimensional physicality, but he has moved beyond being called a sculptor.

The Western European definitions of art had us in tow for decade after decade. The line has snapped and we see that art is not a lake, but the water of the oceans with some name changing at the narrows but essentially boundless. We are loosened from the strictures of eras in which as John Stuart Mill put it “. . . men found out how much easier it is to remember than think,” and enter a time with a larger burden of demanding from each “that the mind, being active and vigorous, might go forth and know” (Essay on Literature and Society). Some of the artists engaged in this endeavor, going beyond the lake-shore principles are participating in radical activity—not in the same revolutionary change, but in going to the root or source. Their affinities and explorations are with the senses, including common, the emotions, the behaviors, the physical, and they reiterate that these are not abstract qualities but the realities.

Rudolf Arnheim’s classic Art and Visual Perception has a subtitle: “A Psychology of the Creative Eye.” We have now artists concerned with the “creativity of the psychological eye.” These individuals have not discarded perception but have added psychology, philosophy, physiology to their list of materials. It is these studies that are determining the structure of their works. The shape, growth, color, form are determined not by esthetic principles, but by the natural, necessary, logical organization demanded by the issues. The disciplines imposed are perhaps more the conditions of the philosopher than the sculptor, and why possibly we will soon need another word than artist to describe these former painters/sculptors.

Virginia Gunter