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GERALD HAYES

Y SP RA

GS N I T N I PA

1966


From Three-Dimensional to Two-Dimensional, and Back Again: Gerald Hayes’ Spray Paintings In the summer of 1966, Gerald Hayes was fresh out of graduate school, having just completed his Masters of Fine Arts in painting and printmaking at the University of Illinois. As a student, he had studied painting, and his thesis project was based on large colorful canvases stained with pigment in the manner of Mark Rothko.1 Now Hayes rejecting paintbrushes and the canvas, a medium he would only return to twelve years later, and searched for other ways to apply paint to surface. He turned to spray paint as he sought unique possibilities for exploring form and structure with paint.2 He limited his palette to black and worked on paper, which he placed down on the table. This spray technique offered him the distance he needed from his previous work, as now he could paint without direct contact with the surface. The vaporized particles of pigment meant that he was effectively painting with air, rather than with a brush. To create the compositions of his new pieces, Hayes while living in Illinois, used die-cut packaging he found in the trash, discarded by the drug store below his apartment. The three-dimensional cardboard, used to hold merchandise such as lotions, shampoos, and other commodity items, had a machine aesthetic that appealed to Hayes.3 The razor-edged angles and precise circles provided a perfect contrast to the diffused, hazy aesthetic of sprayed pigment. Hayes experimented with angling the can above the salvaged packaging, sometimes holding it directly above to create a circular composition, but most typically positioning it obliquely so that the sprayed paint cast a long shadow across the page.4 Once he discovered this technique, he was intrigued by all the possible permutations he could configure with these simple materials. Hayes made the image to the right, for example, by selecting a rectangular structure and arranging its four vertical and five horizontal segments in a grid. He subsequently sprayed five diagonal lines across the ad hoc stencil, slightly angled to the right, so that the paint condensed in areas where it met the three-dimensional structure on one side, and only subtly connected with the paper where it was obstructed on the other side. Hayes then removed the cardboard, revealing untouched white paper where the stencil had been. The result was an interplay between positive and negative space, depth and surface. On closer inspection, the graded pigmentation lends a startling volumetric effect to the silhouetted forms. Rather than appearing flat, they appear to have a form thanks to the play of lightness and darkness produced by varying saturations of paint. The illusion of depth challenges our sense of perspective: the effect is at once haunting and destabilizing. Are we looking at a stencil impression or peering through UNTITLED, AEROSOL PAINT ON PAPER the page to see the object in three dimensions? This innovative use of chiaroscuro created an almost sculptural look to the otherwise flattened geometric patterns. In Untitled, illustrated on page 7, for instance, the surface of the paper becomes a window onto a three dimensional scene of movement and fluidity, as a flowing, almost languorous rectangular grid appears to float like a sail in the wind. Thus Hayes reveals his process to us; he shows us how he conjures volume out of a two dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object.

Gerald Hayes, telephone interview with the author, November 17, 2016. A few spray paintings are dated to February 1966, when Hayes was still in graduate school. He has confirmed that the bulk of the spray paintings were created during the summer of 1966. Gerald Hayes, telephone interview with the author, November 17, 2016. 3 Op. cit., Gerald Hayes, telephone interview with the author. 4 Hayes never held the spray can more than 18� away from the paper. Gerald Hayes, email exchange with the author, December 3, 2016. 1

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The roughly fifty spray paintings Hayes created in 1966 reveal the artist’s process; in each work one can see Hayes working out problems relating to composition, space, and intensity of pigment. Hayes thus worked in series, exploring different options using one stencil, then, once he satisfied his research on that particular stencil shape, he would find a new one, and begin the experimental process again. By examining these spray paintings together, we can see that in each individual painting, Hayes was working out a series of formal challenges: what stencil to use, what angle to hold the can, how much pressure to express, what distance from the paper, etc. The whole body of work, therefore, is an unfolding process and an evolving experimental practice. Given their seriality and compositional structure, Hayes’ spray paintings fit neatly into the category of Minimal Abstraction, and can be likened to the work of Dean Fleming or Thomas Downing.5 However, what was arguably most innovative about Hayes’ works was not their DAVID SMITH hard-edged forms, but the material used to make them: aerosol paint. UNTITLED, 1963 TEMPERA AND SPRAY PAINT ON PAPER Up until this moment, spray paint was not considered a fine art mediC 2018 THE ESTATE OF DAVID SMITH / um, and belonged largely to the commercial art field. Aerosol paint LICENSED BY VAGA AT ARTISTS RIGHTS was used extensively for technical illustration and design, such as SOCIETY (ARS), NY greeting cards and posters.6 But Hayes was not the first artist to work ALBRIGHT-KNOX ART GALLERY / ART RESOURCE, NY with aerosol paint. By the summer of 1966, he was certainly well aware of the sculptor David Smith’s experiments with the medium, created from 1957 to 1965.7 Smith had worked with three-dimensional forms on a two-dimensional surface by placing his tools on paper or canvas and spraying over them with different colored enamels. The result, somewhat similar to Hayes’ work, was a negative silhouette on the paper or canvas where the objects had been. Smith produced the Sprays, as they have come to be called, in parallel with his welded steel abstract sculpture. They offered him the opportunity to go from three-dimensions to two-dimensions, and to explore surface without the complication of multiple points of view, which sculpture in the round constantly necessitates. First, he systematically held the aerosol at a ninety-degree angle, perfectly vertical above the canvas surface, creating an all-over surface effect. Second, Smith often painted in the stenciled areas with white oil paint, creating the effect of light but not volume, for he was not painting in the reverse-shadows, but layering gestural brushstrokes. Another difference between the spray works of Smith and Hayes is that Smith used color, in for example, Main Pribilof, from 1959, to enhance the dramatic suspension of form. Hayes, by contrast, kept to black pigment, reducing the possibilities of color to focus on structure. Ultimately, in comparing the two, it is interesting how Smith, used to working in space as a sculptor, made flat images with spray, while Hayes, a painter, accustomed to working with flat renderings, manipulated spray to imply illusionistic spatial forms. By the mid-1960s, Hayes was not alone in following Smith’s appropriation of spray paint. One of the most well-known examples was Color Field painter Jules Olitski, who began to use aerosolized pigment in 1965 to move away from gestural abstraction. His paintings are characterized by exuberant colors and dimensional flatness, and he described his process as “nothing but some colors sprayed into the air and staying there.”8 Compared to Olitski or Smith, Hayes’ spray paintings, however, stand in sharp contrast, as Hayes used spray In the same year Hayes created his spray paintings, the curator Lawrence Alloway put together a show at the Guggenheim museum called Systemic Painting (held September – November 1966), which argued for the continuing viability of painting as tied to the look and interests of Minimalism, including reduced means, and emphasis on strictly defined medium constraints, and an industrial seriality. Both Fleming and Thomas Downing had work shown in Systemic Painting. 6 Ralph S. Maurello, The Complete Airbrush Book (New York: W. Penn Pub. Corp., 1955), ix. 7 David Smith’s Sprays were exhibited for the first time in the exhibition titled David Smith: Paintings and Drawings at the French and Company Gallery in New York in September 1959. 8 Jules Olitski, Sprayed: Works from 1929 to 2015, (London, England: Gagosian, 2015), 115. 5

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paint to heighten the sense of three-dimensionality in the figure-ground relationship established between the pigment and the negative space of his stencils. Indeed, the key gesture that resulted in the unique spatial depths Hayes created in his sprays was the oblique angle at which he held his aerosol can. Unlike Smith or Olitski, who seem to have positioned their cans directly above their surfaces, Hayes held his off to one side. He gripped it in closer proximity to the surface, and directed the stream of pigment parallel to the paper. The force of gravity then pulled the paint particles down towards the surface, creating an uneven distribution. This change in relationship altered the entire orientation of the artist’s hand to the surface and resulted in deft volume rather than self-evident flatness. And yet, the abstract stenciled three-dimensional shapes resulting from this highly innovative spray technique recall traditional still life genre. The forms in the images appear in the foreground, sometimes seemingly floating, at other times casting a long shadow that fixes the objects in a virtual space. Hayes leaves a mark with action, but without contact, and creates abstract three-dimensional representations on a flat surface. In the years following 1966 Hayes continued his experiments with three-dimensionality, and expanded the stenciled forms into large scale sculpture. He began a series called Space Envelopes in which he raised and expanded the volumetric planes of his spray from the page into the room by using physical polyethylene sheeting. Hayes was still concerned with questions of construction, as he attached some sheets to the ceiling of the Soho Reese Palley Gallery in 1970 in grid patterns. These polyethylene sheets were so thin that they reacted to the air currents displaced by the viewers walking around them. This preoccupation with movement echoed Hayes’ spray painting, such as Untitled, seen here and page 20, where the rhombus shape seems to thrust upwards and outwards, like a rooster puffing up its chest.

UNTITLED, AEROSOL PAINT ON PAPER

It was Hayes’ Space Envelopes that first brought him critical attention. After his success at the Reese Palley Gallery, his pieces were exhibited in the show “Lucht Kunst” (Air Art) at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and “Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Elements of Art” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, both in 1971. Writing about these works in Artforum as early as 1973, the curator Virginia Gunter claimed that Hayes made the transition from painter to sculptor in material use as well as visual presentation.9 But his sculptural forms would not have been possible were it not for his earlier spray paintings, where Hayes’ deft use of shading and vectoring allowed his works to transcend the two-dimensionality of the page. Hayes’ 1966 series of spray paintings are thus not only remarkable for their innovative use of medium—black aerosolized pigment—but in the way they heralded the artist’s leap from the page to space. - Martina Tanga Martina Tanga is a curator and art historian, with an interest in art that engages with social concerns, feminism, and the built environment. She is a specialist in Italian 20th-century art, and her book, titled Arte Ambientale: Urban Space, and Participatory Art, to be released by Routledge Press, examines radical artistic practices situated in Italy’s 1970s urban landscape. Tanga earned her BA and MA in the History of Art from University College London and a Ph.D. in the History of Art and Architecture from Boston University.

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Virginia Gunter, “Gerald Hayes: The Creativity of the Psychological Eye” Artforum Magazine (May 1973): 41-42.

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 18 x 24"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 18 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18" Private Collection, NY

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 56"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 12 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 17 x 17"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 17 x 17"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18" Private Collection, NY

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 17 x 17"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 24 x 18"

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Publication Š 2018 David Hall Fine Art, LLC Designed by Roxby Design, Arlington MA Printed by Puritan Capital, Hollis NH All rights reserved. No part of this publication my be reprinted or reproduced in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means now or known hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording or in any information retrieval system without prior written permission from the copyright holder. ISBN 978-0-692-19095-1 Photography by Will Howcroft Photography, Boston


Untitled, aerosol paint on paper, 18 x 24"

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Gerald Hayes Spray Paintings 1966  

Gerald Hayes Spray Paintings 1966