The winner of this year's Richard Silver Award at the Cabbagetown Art and Crafts Festival had a fish to clean when I called to interview him. Stephen Hayes has been creating artwork from a range of materials for many years and has probably been fishing around his hometown of Peterborough for even longer. Despite the waiting trout, he was kind enough to explain some of the details behind his stark, enigmatic mixed media pieces.
This was your first time at the Cabbagetown Art and Crafts show. What other shows or exhibitions have you done?
I've been doing outdoor art shows for quite a while, actually. I've done the show in Nathan Phillips Square off and on since the early 90s. I have been with galleries, over the years, it just has never worked that well. I used to do a lot of shows in the States. For a number of years, I used to do a lot of similar type shows – outdoor art shows. There's thousands of them in the States, and I used to just pick from the top ten. This year I did the Artist Project in Toronto, in February. And then I did a show in Kingston, then Riverdale, then Nathan Phillips Square, and then Cabbagetown.
When did you start working in mixed media?
I think even the earliest pieces that I had at the earlier shows I did twenty or twenty-five years ago were probably half mixed media, half painting. I still paint. Like, most of the skies, and whatnot there in my pieces I paint myself, but... yeah... I've just sort of broadened my vocabulary with the materials that I've been using, like, in the last few years I've started doing more resin casting –at least, it's made its way into my work.
Can you describe how your art has evolved?
I've always done artwork, ever since I was a kid. I think I was in grade seven and my grade three teacher came up to me at recess and said 'Are you still making those crazy drawings?' and I was like 'I didn't think anybody even notices.' But anyways, I used to paint more. I was more of a painter, and I was never satisfied... it was very difficult for me to complete a piece. I'd always end up, like, cutting into the canvas, or sticking something through it. I just needed one more dimension. So I guess I just started constructing little three-dimensional things; some from found objects, some from made objects... different, like metals and glass and different materials. I just started making these assemblages, and it just sort of grew from there.
What materials do you use these days?
There's usually quite a bit of wood. Metal. I do a lot of soldering and stuff, and make these sort of structures. There's a lot of sculptural epoxy. I use that a lot; it's a two-part epoxy putty, and you mix the A and the B in equal amounts, and you've got a working time of about, maybe half an hour, and when left overnight it hardens like a rock. It's great to use. You can do all kinds of things with it; do it in layers, sand it and build it up, and sculpt some actually fairly fine pieces. And I've been using concrete quite a bit in my pieces.
How do you decide what materials to use in a piece?
Ahhhh... that's a difficult question. Some pieces, I know exactly what they're going to look like. I have an idea. And other pieces sort of evolve. I just start putting pieces together and they start to hum a little, and you get to a certain point and maybe you can't go any further, and then you're working on something else two weeks later and a light bulb goes off in the direction of the piece that you've put aside. It's sort of like that. Some evolve, and some are just more concrete ideas. You know what you want before you start. It sort of runs the gamut between those two.
What inspires you?
I don't know. Most of the themes that are present in my pieces have a lot to do with just, like, the human condition. The daily struggles in sort of a buried way. They're not always that obvious, but that's basically what they deal with.
Your work that I've seen is very stark, and some pieces have a line across them dividing them into top and bottom sections. What are you saying with that?
Oh, I'm not going to tell you! I can't explain everything, and a lot of people don't like that, but sometimes, the less said the better. Some people will come up and say 'what does that mean?' Well, what does it mean to you? It might mean something totally different to me, and it might mean something totally different in a month from now, even though I did it with a number of ideas in mind. But I might see something that I didn't originally realize.
Are there any other artists in your family?
My older brother Mike is an artist in Guelph. My mother became a nurse, but in her time it probably wasn't very feasible for her as a female in the 40s to get into art as a career. But she was very talented.
Where can people buy your work?
I have a studio in downtown Peterborough, and the first Friday of most months I have an open studio. That's one way that they can find me. I'm working on a website. I hope to have it up and running in the next couple months.