New York

Paula Hayes

Fawbush Gallery

It is easy to see from Paula Hayes’ work that she’s an artist excited by nature; in fact, with her proliferating root systems, eroticized bees, ominous frosts, and suggestive phrases, it would even be easy to think that she’s sexually excited by nature. In Wish Energy (all works 1994), a sinewy house is labelled both “nice” and “haha,“ and a big arrow pointing downward at some sort of root system says “2″ hard frost.” Seemingly unconnected phrases line the individual roots: “Fucking everyone is fucking no one, take the queen jelly, oh it’s necrophilia is it!?, you know the ego is in the blood.” Taken singly, a drawing such as this could be an illustration for a long-lost Brothers Grimm fairy tale, full of sublimated violence and sexuality. Taken in conjunction with Hayes’ other works, however, it begins to elaborate a system as highly idiosyncratic as that of a medieval alchemist, one that appears to draw its iconography from both natural science and personal experience. Hayes’ drawings are equal parts botany handbook and Emily Dickinson, and even when they don’t consciously incorporate horticultural imagery, compositionally they reflect the process of structuring a garden; whether the pattern and arrangement of the elements is due to climate, compatibility, or sheer esthetics, only the gardener knows.

If there’s a skeleton key to this world, it may lie in the works’ subtle sexuality, which is sometimes verbally explicit, though never visually so, as in a wall drawing titled There Is Frost I Guess (And Sun Too). The work looks like an enlargement of a diagram of roots, many of which are lined with repetitive phrases (written in a sinuous, vegetal script): “What does it mean when one is afraid?, darling purple teeth marks on soft pallor, these are well branched, and rebranched—very dense, when one is afraid—one grows pale, darling purple teeth marks on soft pallor, fear makes people pale, one grows pale, and runs off at oblique angles.” The rhizomatous imagery seems somehow appropriate to the suggestive phrasing Hayes often uses—as if the artist, unlike “natural scientists” who describe the reproductive habits of plants with proper scientific detachment, has discovered the interpenetrability of flora and romance. On one hand, there’s a sexual aspect to botany itself: if you think about it, the way plants reproduce is vaguely perverted. Having a bee carry pollen from one flower to another would be like a husband having his semen transported to his wife by the intermediary of, well, another species. On the other hand, there’s also a botanical aspect to sexuality, as in the drawing, I, Bee Mistress. Is Hayes a mistress of the bees (perhaps a flower)? Is she a bee who’s a mistress (hence the suggestiveness of Wish Energy’s “take the queen jelly”)? Either way, it starts to sound like dirty talk in the language of flowers.

Keith Seward