Maya Hayuk’s artwork is instantly recognizable. The Brooklyn-based artist’s methodical (and massive) mash-ups of crisscross patterns in lush and neon colors have appeared on such makeshift canvases as a mural wall in New York City, a metal warehouse in Pennsylvania, a museum lobby in Los Angeles, and a brick building on a side street in Brussels. Her self-proclaimed “environmental art” aesthetic stems from an education in the fine arts and a childhood filled with traditional Ukrainian crafts.
Although Hayuk is mainly known for her painting, she’s created art through other mediums as well. “There are videos I’d like to work on more, some music projects, too. And if I could work in different mediums—glass, cement, wood—I would. I just don't have the access right now,” says Hayuk. “I’m always working on something, but the focus has been primarily painting.”
Hayuk’s latest exhibition, "Light Heavy" (Oct. 30 to Nov. 29) at the Cinders Gallery pop-up location on the Lower East Side, is her first show in Manhattan. It features a handful of paintings that Hayuk approached as if she were painting a mural (gestural, freehand, kaleidoscopically symmetrical) but on a smaller scale. As much as her linear landscapes offer a rush of visual stimulation (the “light” half of the exhibition's name), that sensation wouldn’t be possible without layers of brushstrokes (“heavy”) melding, mixing, and dripping on the canvas.
This exhibition is also a follow-up to Hayuk's 2010 solo show "Heavy Light," which, in comparison, offered paintings that were more fluid in form, closely resembling ink blots and Rorschach tests, than something like the tight-knit tapestries you see in her work today. But no matter the scale or shape, the paintings in "Light Heavy" offer a trippy and pleasurable experience.
We spoke with Hayuk while she was preparing for her exhibition and then caught up with her post-opening night. Here, she tells us about her work, including what music she listened to while painting, her inspirations, and where she wants to paint a mural next.
These Are just the essence of the most sensual parts of orgies of colors interweaving.
Most people instantly recognize your work, and it seems like you developed this signature aesthetic around 2007. How did you develop your painting style?
I was raised doing Ukrainian crafts like batik egg dying, embroidery, and woodcarving. So a lot of my pattern work is based on ancient, tribal, non-representational imagery that's very universal. From an anthropological and spiritual perspective, I’ve been inspired and fascinated since I was a kid. Before, I used to paint in a much more narrative way, usually depicting scenes drenched in gushy wet sex. The storylines were eventually dropped and replaced with just the essence of the most sensual parts of orgies of colors interweaving.
Color is a huge part of your work. Would you ever consider working in black and white or with only one color?
I have before but not as often. I’ve made monochromatic paintings that seem like they are black, gray, and white but they are all mixed by hand from other colors to give the appearance of black and white. Ten years ago, I painted almost entirely with browns and shades of aqua.
What’s the concept and inspiration behind your current exhibition, "Light Heavy"?
The last show I did with Cinders Gallery was called "Heavy Light," with an emphasis on how heavy the color black is and how infinite the universe's potential is. This is a continuation with the theme, but with a lot of positive space and lightness. I’m fascinated with the idea of traveling through time and space. Though it might sound simplistic, it's where I “go” when I paint. I love the polarity and poetry of something being both heavy and light in weight and space. Plus, I tend to say the word "heavy" a lot to express joy.
How did you last use the word “heavy” in a sentence?
"That afterparty was really heavy."
You've been a part of Cinders for a while now. How has that relationship progressed, and how have you grown with them over time?
Cinders is a collective of a really good group of friends who are all artists supporting one another and growing together. It’s been 10 years now, and we have a lot of love. We’ve maybe become a tiny bit more professional in our approach… Maybe.
You've lived in Brooklyn for over a decade now. How has the art scene in the borough changed over the years? Do you think there’s a difference when it comes to art scenes in other boroughs?
I’ve been living in Brooklyn for 13 years now, and in that time the art in the borough has blossomed. I feel incredibly lucky to live here. And although this is my first solo show in Manhattan, I'm not sure that there's a difference.
I’m fascinated with the idea of traveling through time and space. Though it might sound simplistic, it's where I “go” when I paint.
What was the inspiration behind the titles of your paintings in Light Heavy?
A huge body of work in the show is named Chemical Trails, based off of the “chem trails” in the sky that some people say are crop-dusting humans with chemicals to stay stupid. Also, certain chemicals can make you see trails.
Alles Klar means "All Good/All Clear" in German, and Glistener and Deep Listener were both reactions to some deep house music I was listening to at the time I painted those paintings.
Heavy Win is an idea that in an Enneagram personality type, you have wings and sometimes they are heavy. Multiverses have to do with the theory that there are infinite possibilities in the universe, and Positive Space is the opposite of negative space.
There’s one mural that you put up for "Light Heavy" that glows in the dark once the gallery is closed. What made you decide to do that?
The next night after the show’s opening was Halloween, and I thought it would be good to have a black-lit room for people get spooked by.
You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you always listen to music while painting. What else were you listening to while creating artwork for "Light Heavy"?
I listen to a lot of music from Africa, as well as contemporary pop, noise, electronic music, and some serious garbage; also, podcasts and NPR. The range is vast. In the last few months, I started re-listening to deep house in a way that was more associated with a trance-like, open-minded space I could get into outside of a party setting. This has been very good for me in my studio because the non-linear nature of listening to DJ sets gave me more time to listen to my paintings more thoughtfully, and I can't help but occasionally dance, too.
the non-linear nature of listening to DJ sets gave me more time to listen to my paintings more thoughtfully.
You’re known for traveling all over the world to create environmental art. Is there somewhere you still hope to paint a mural?
I’d like to think/hope that I am at the very beginning of my international paint coverage. There are so many places I’d like to travel to, and hopefully some of those places could use a mural. I’d like to spend more time in Brazil, mainly because I feel so comfortable there, and I vibe super hard with the culture and environment.
Much, much closer to home and kind of hilariously, there's one wall I’ve had my eye on for 12 or more years now. It’s the side of the deli across the street from my house in Williamsburg, and although they've had some beautiful murals there in the past, it seems that they might be switching over to having paid advertising on the wall. I’d love to convince the owner that he should let me have a go at it.
Since you usually work outdoors in public spaces, your murals and paintings are easily found on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Do you think social media has played a part in getting your artwork more exposure?
Yes, by leaps and bounds. I used to only update my website once or twice a year because I was so busy traveling and painting. Then when I started loading images of my process on a daily basis, I think people became aware of how I work and became much more excited about it all.
Your large-scale paintings and murals are usually not planned in advance, and you once described your creative process as artistic reactions to the environment. Do you have a different process for smaller-scale artworks?
I still treat the panels in my studio as if they are small murals. I don't sketch out what I’m going to do. I just take a trust fall into hoping for a heavy result.
What's inspiring you right now?
New music, new love, new people, new ideas, new possibilities for the future, new paths, new news.
What’s next for you this year?
In December, I have a solo show at the Pulse Art Fair in Miami with Circle Culture Gallery from Berlin. Then hopefully some downtime. A trip to Brazil would be nice. Some time with a book on the beach would be amazing!
Catch Maya Hayuk’s "Light Heavy" show at Cinders Gallery’s pop-up location at 124 Forsyth St. in New York City until Nov. 29, 2014.