Maya Hayuk: Heavy Trails
Hammer Projects/UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
August 17, 2013 -- January 26, 2014
By Megan Abrahams
Painted in a whirlwind two-week residency in August, Maya Hayuk’s monumental scale murals on the walls of the Hammer Museum's entry stairwell envelope the viewer in an electric interplay of form and color. Capturing the essence of the artist’s improvised style, her work succeeds in harmonizing spontaneity with a thoughtfully considered approach. Clues to her process are revealed in intermittent splashes and drips, which give a characteristic vitality to the carefully interwoven intricacy of pattern and composition.
With their vivid color and tendency toward symmetry, Hayuk’s compositions are like freeze frames borrowed from inside a child’s kaleidoscope. Composites of jewel tones in psychedelic patterns, her work seems to convey a female sensibility. Soft curves and pastel hues modulate the strong contrasting hard-edge vistas. In pure abstraction, with unexpected surprises here and there, Hayuk combines bands of color with translucent overlays, weaving elaborate visual elements into complex multi-layered images.
One surprise is an unintentional reference to the features of a face, in the mural on the first landing, going up the stairway. A triangle, that might be interpreted as a nose, the possibility of a pointed chin, and fringes that could be construed as eyelashes are inadvertent focal points in the center of this symmetrical work. Perhaps the most dynamic and engaging of the three murals is the smallest one, at the top of the stairs. Its asymmetrical composition makes it flow without static, its swirling bands of energetic color poised to escape the confines of the wall.
At a talk at the Hammer Museum soon after the exhibition opened, curator Corrina Peipon pointed out some of the revealing features of Hayuk’s work. The artist has a practiced hand, after having painted numerous murals in museum spaces around the world. To create these vast paintings, Hayuk works from an elaborate scaffolding, a set-up that inevitably informs her process. As Peipon noted, the artist has invented various techniques through trial and error while painting directly on the walls.
The scale of the murals may be enormous, but Hayuk’s approach is confined to the limitations of her use of extender poles, and most of her gestures are made within her reach. The finished work exposes the action involved in the application of paint. Her style is characterized by wrist movements and other gestures which add visual interest and enhance the final result. She does not use tape, even in rendering hard edges like the diagonal stripes of color in the largest mural, on the wall adjacent to the stairs. “The whole point is to have these mistakes – sharing the physicality of her body,” Peipon said.
A dry paint roller is one of the tools in Hayuk’s arsenal. Her lines appear smooth from a distance, but close-up there is some deviation. “She jiggles it back and forth instead of rolling it, so you get this effect,” said Peipon. Her process is cumulative, made up of a series of decisions, each stage suggesting the next. In a video made during the course of the project, Hayuk said, “I like to start something from nothing, let it start to tell me what to do and just listen, and try to be a better listener with the work I’m creating.” Elaborating on the spontaneous nature of Hayuk’s work, Peipon said, “She’s definitely invested in the process of improvisation. She makes certain marks, and then is influenced by those marks.”
Hayuk’s paintings are a sort of contemporary homage to the psychedelic ‘60s. She embarks from a place free from rigidity, without relying on a plan or template. However spontaneous her process, the resulting work has geometric resonance, clearly rooted in the experience acquired by cultivating her process over time. It’s a process she describes as, “a kind of deep meditation.” The artist uses her sense of composition as a foundation upon which to weave with an evident freedom and sense of playfulness. It is precisely that light, improvised quality that makes her work so inviting.
Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings.
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