Painter Randy Hayes is known for realist paintings that display expressionist and other distortions and that draw on theatrical lighting. Randolph Alan Hayes was born in Jackson in 1944 and grew up near Clinton. At age sixteen Hayes moved to Tupelo, where he met artist Ke Francis and spent time with him drawing and painting. Hayes studied at Rhodes College in Memphis from 1962 to 1965 and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Memphis Academy of Art in 1968. He next studied sculpture and worked toward his master of arts at the University of Oregon before moving to Seattle in 1968 as a VISTA volunteer. Hayes had his first solo exhibition there in 1971 and spent most of the next forty-five years in the city.
In 1973 Hayes moved to Boston to work as a set designer for Boston’s PBS affiliate, WGBH. This experience significantly influenced his art. He became fascinated with the possibilities of dramatic lighting, and he experimented with constructions, combining drawings, light, and three-dimensional space. With these influences, Hayes returned to Seattle in 1979 and began working with shadowboxes. According to Hayes, “There are several prevailing themes in my work: the loss of innocence, the allure of glamour, the taboos of sex and race. Perhaps I am most drawn to the struggle of the individual with the unknown. My interest in these themes can be traced, at least in part, to my having spent my early years in the South. While my subjects may be hustlers in Times Square, prostitutes in Rome, or rollerskaters on Venice Beach, this southern inheritance is at the heart of much of my work.”
Hayes’s figurative work, while realistic in aspect, borrows brilliantly from the repertoire of modernism, and the inherent drama of his painting bespeaks the narrative tradition. Critics have pointed out that his painting has expressionist distortion, fauve color, the motion of futurists, and the light and brushwork of impressionism. Though Hayes says, “I think of myself as a traditionalist,” his techniques belie that assessment. In an early mode, he made life-size pastel drawings using high-contrast photographs of the models for gestures and patterns of light and dark. He then cut out the figures, sandwiched them between sheets of fiberboard and acrylic cut into the shapes of the figures, and mounted them directly onto a black-painted gallery wall. Under heavy theatrical lighting, the paintings glowed with the energy of his subjects: boxers, strippers, pool players, prostitutes, and other urban dwellers.
Hayes later began oil painting. A 1984 installation commissioned for the Seattle Center, The Pool, was a transitional work in both form and content. Life-size cutout figures were executed with a severely limited palette of oil paint on canvas mounted on board. The subject matter, couples by a swimming pool, focused on interactions between people. Hayes continued the use of theatrical lighting to give a heightened dramatic cast to the paintings. In more recent work, he has embraced the conventionally framed oil painting truncated by the picture edge, but his aggressive realism, concerned with social alienation and personal isolation, is thoroughly modern. Hayes’s work has been called erotic, but the eroticism is more a function of the physical monumentality and motion of his figures than the sexual content.
Since the beginning of his career Hayes has used photographs as source material for his paintings, but in 1991 photographs became a part of his medium. Using a grid of snapshots to present a scene from all perspectives, Hayes covered the photographic images with new images rendered in semitranslucent washes of paint. This technique produced complex and layered surfaces with narrative content and provocative commentary. Hayes frequently uses Mississippi iconography in his work, and in 2013 he returned to the state, setting up his studio in Holly Springs.
Hayes’s 1996 exhibition in Seattle, The South So Far, included Moon over Vicksburg. The series Baby Doll Suite (2006) was inspired by the film adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play and the steamy work’s effect on the people of Clinton. Hayes’s 2008 series, Ruins of Mississippi and Other Places in the World, thematically juxtaposed the loss of the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina with iconic ruins in Rome, Athens, Mombasa, Oaxaca, and elsewhere. His art has been the subject of numerous shows as well as articles in Artweek, ARTnews, Art in America, and other prominent art magazines. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Regional Visual Arts Fellowship (1988) and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Visual Arts Award (1990). His work is in the collections of the US Department of State, Microsoft Corporation, McDonald’s Collection, the Seattle Art Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and the Tacoma Art Museum, among others.
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Patti Carr Black, The Mississippi Story (2007)
- Randy Hayes website, www.randyhayes.net