Echoes of Content in an Extended Visual Phrase
by Megan Kelly
Through many years of following her exhibitions, discovering the latest paintings by Jodi Hays feels both comfortable and embedded, like picking up the thread of thought from a past discussion. Speaking with the artist about her work, too, reflects this sense of a long-running dialogue. Hays is a dedicated studio painter, and the work she produces exists as individual phrases in a longer span of conversation that she has maintained with her work for over fifteen years.
In her paintings, Hays’s surfaces are meticulously worked—scraped paint reveals glimpses into spaces built and structured through areas of color—but it’s her use of palette knives and silkscreening squeegees in addition to brushes that helps give a sense of dynamic motion and vibrancy to the careful layers of paint and tape. It’s visual evidence of the artist’s bodily range of physical motion in working on individual pieces, as well as reflecting her habit of actively moving between paintings during her working process. As much of Hays’s work recalls a sense of “echoing,” the feeling of reflected physicality cascades from a single piece to the body of work to the workspace itself—where everything from tables to walls is designed to move on wheels—and creates a pleasing connection to the movement inherent in the artist’s hand.
Bold and colorful, the resolved paintings feel like fragments, pieces of memory jumbled together to create new spaces that feel both familiar and new. Hays is a curator of content, constantly discovering new experiences in visual, auditory, and written formats, or anything that catches and provokes thought. “I collect images digitally, tear sheets from newspapers and magazines, keep a box of handwritten titles and a notepad on my iPhone. Some of these have been with me for fifteen years, waiting for a painting,” Hays explains. By allowing them the time and space to exist in physical and digital collections, Hays gives these initial impressions room to breathe, change, and respond to each other, percolating new ways of seeing and viewing for the artist and her audience. Hays describes both the creation and the thought process behind her work as “surfacing,” an apt metaphor for how her painting explorations arise from this collected sea of experience both physical—literal dwelling places such as homes and their objects—and intangible—a social and cultural dwelling place of media, interactions, and transitory earworms—to pursue their own iconography and expression.
Though the painted works are combinations of these initial catalysts that rarely resemble their origins, rather than thinking of the work in terms of “abstract” or “representational,” Hays is more interested in painting as an act, as a way of processing and responding to her environment, rather than as an attempt to surrender to perfection of image. “Painting is not in opposition to this (dis)organization; it is in relation to it,” Hays explains. “I don’t see painting as an ‘end’ to a process, but as thinking itself.” Painting is, at its foundation, a medium that relies on representing a concept visually through degrees of abstraction. In contemporary work, this includes how paint engages an object, the painting itself, which exists in our culture as a carrier and transmitter of meaning and intent. As Hays describes it, her work is “an interest in painting discovered, rather than imposed.” Using image, surface, and medium as the vehicle for connecting a larger body of thoughts pulled from her collected sea of experience, Hays strives to access a personal mode of considering the world through the limitations and historical investment of paint.
Though Hays’s works exist online, a glimpse into the curatorial process of her mind can be seen in Selvage, an exhibition inspired by quilts and textiles co-curated with Laura Hutson, which runs through November 21 at Tennessee State University. Her works—always a treat to view in person—can also be seen in her solo show Archival Spelunking, at the Tennessee Arts Commission from November 21 through January 11, and in Degrees of Abstraction at the Cannon Gallery of Art at Western Oregon University through December.
For more about Jodi Hays visit www.jodihays.com.