by Barbara Morris
Density, as defined by Merriam Webster, is a condition “marked by compactness or crowding together of parts.” Those words well describe the work of Andrew Hayes whose current cycle of steel-and-paper sculptures packs a lot of solid matter into some very compact spaces.
The North Carolina artist has always emphasized a formalist impulse to create autonomous, abstract objects coupled with an undercurrent of allusion to the long, rich and intimate world of the book, the cold geometry of steel wedded to the warmth and nuance of well-thumbed tomes. In earlier exhibitions, Hayes worked exclusively with books, specifically with pages taken from them as a foil to his welded steel housings. But in this exhibition — an assortment of wall, pedestal and freestanding works — he breaks new ground by injecting into these minimalist geometric shapes hints of trompe l'oiel.
Hayes’ working method, however, remains unchanged. He begins each sculpture by bending and cutting paper to arrive at eye-catching forms; he then fabricates metal components to house and complement them. Scale 1 and 2, a diptych, consists of wall-mounted steel boxes that recall those of Donald Judd, albeit flipped on their backs. As one studies them, the surfaces open up, revealing scuffs and a warmer, brownish color. Two elongated rectangles comprised of stacks of Prussian blue paper intersect these forms, one bulging and squared off, the other a flat stack with a rounded top. It’s one of many instances of subtle details in the work where opposing forms balance, creating a feeling of harmony.
Circumscribe presents a steel form that morphs from a cone, flaring out into a thick rectangular wedge supporting a mass of papers, with the top edge curved downward, completing the arc of the circle below. The edges of the paper are blurred with dark marks revealing the inky presence of text. In these Hayes uses sanding almost as a drawing tool. He also scuffs and scores the metal with files, giving the surfaces a more tactile presence, gently countering the minimalist instinct to obliterate evidence of the artist's hand. Crossing makes a bold color statement with arcs of ocher and brick red gracefully wrapping around a central form of gray metal. A partial cylinder houses this form, supported on two flat metal pieces in a tour de force balancing act which thrusts energy upward as the piece itself seems to pull backward and down.
Arroyo resembles a book gone rogue, its pages rippled and arcing into accordion-shaped topographic features, like something out of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, churning and writhing under its own powers. Given that its “covers” are steel, and the “pages” were never bound, the effect borders on trompe l'oiel.
Lines Collection is a wall-mounted grouping of six small works, each consisting of a dark steel rectangle to which strips of paper (thick sheaves trimmed to a narrow width) are tethered. They coalesce into a muted rainbow of hues: cream, gray, blue, mauve and Naples yellow. Twisting and contorting into energetic forms by the ways in which they are attached, at times the paper splays open at different junctures, creating an exhilarating feeling of release, before pulling back together into a contained state. The graphic quality of the lines begins to suggest letters, but the vision never materializes, which is all to the good because the allusion generates the idea of an unknowable text.
Structure, measuring 13 x 27 x 12 inches, is the largest work in the show. Occupying more space and conveying a weight that belies its modest proportions, this piece has an imposing presence, its shape and meticulous craft bringing to mind (at considerably smaller scale) the work of Tony Smith and Fletcher Benton. A thick volume, possibly an encyclopedia, is fit snugly against the metal, the union of the two seeming somehow inevitable. The steel form is flat at the ends, but curved as it bends forward, while the left side features an inclined plane, as if hacked from a rectangular solid.
Hayes, significantly, has always intended his sculpture to convey meaning through formal channels, divorced from the content of his source material. But a certain literary aura lingers nonetheless around the book-like pages, imbuing the work with their essence. Delving deeper into abstraction, Hayes now insists that the viewer accept paper more at its face value—as pulped and formed mass. By backing away from “book art” and its associated presumptions and making his work more reductive, Hayes has expanded the scope and scale of his vision.
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Andrew Hayes: “Density” @ Seager Gray Gallery through June 29, 2017.
About the author:
Barbara Morris is a Bay Area-based writer and artist. She has been a regular contributor to Artillery and art ltd. magazines for the past seven years, and previously wrote for Artweek magazine for ten years, seven of them as a contributing editor. Her writing has appeared in WEAD magazine, stretcher.org, and Artist's Dialogue, as well as numerous other publications. Morris holds an MFA from UC Berkeley.