The school year is barely underway, but for one young artist, it’s already homecoming.
University Galleries in Uptown Normal is currently showing the works of Illinois State University alumna Erin Hayden. The artist draws on her Irish heritage, emphasizing fairytales and storytelling in her layered exhibition, “Flowers-o'-the-Moon.” The exhibition is currently up through Oct. 20.
This isn’t the first time the Chicago-based Hayden has shown her work at University Galleries. She so impressed Gallery Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz when the artist exhibited her work in 2017’s show, “Subdivision,” that Hayden earned a return invitation.
“It’s just an honor to be back,” enthused Hayden. “And also to have the whole space to do something with. It feels like home here, so I’m excited to be back and showing work.”
“I’ve been a fan of Erin’s work since she was an undergrad,” explained Paitz. “She asked me to come and do a studio visit with her while she was an undergrad. She had been making really good work. But in that studio visit, I walked in and was just blown away by the way that she was starting to play with positive and negative space, layering imagery and really playing with the materiality of the paint. It was fun to watch her grow and develop.”
Hayden incorporates video, along with enormous paintings and typewritten word installations in “Flowers-o'-the-Moon.” She drew from her Irish heritage, exploring Celtic themes and symbols.
“It’s been this recent fascination,” Hayden revealed. “Just wanting to uncover my own history of my ancestors and where they came from and the stories they told.”
Hayden delved into Celtic myths and fairytales, intuitively responding to the symbology for her latest works. Stamps of Celtic knots pop up throughout Hayden’s creations.
“Those are images that I’ve been working with, trying to decode intuitively. But then also looking up things when they resonate, just trying to uncover those feelings.”
“When I grew up, my family was very proud of being Irish, but the way in which that was brought out was we would wear green the whole month of March,” laughed Hayden.
The works on display existed Hayden’s imagination when Paitz contacted her about having a solo show at University Galleries. Paitz committed to the exhibition based solely on her belief in Hayden and her work.
“She talked about the things she was thinking about,” Paitz said. “It was exciting to say, ‘Here’s an alum; we trust her and we’re going to see what she makes.' She’ll be premiering a video, too. I actually haven’t seen it yet,” Paitz admitted with a laugh. “Which is not how I usually work, but it’s really exciting. I think it will be really fascinating to see the video on this large screen across the space from these large paintings and having that motion and sound and how does that activate the paintings in another way or form different responses with them.”
In addition to the paintings and video, poetry also plays a large role in Hayden’s latest work.
“We also have all these poetic texts,” added Paitz. “And Erin’s drawing with typewriters.”
Working—and drawing—with typewriters is a more immediate way of working with text, explained Hayden.
“Sometimes I’m just pressing and not spelling anything, and that creates shapes or lines. You can also move the paper in any space and it doesn’t have to make sense logically, like on a computer.”
“Sometimes actual drawing happens on top or stamping of images. It’s putting dark marks on a lighter sheet of paper and seeing how that works compositionally. A lot of it has to do with how I’m feeling in the moment.”
“Sometimes I make a spelling error and I have to deal with that. It jumpstarts another type of creativity that welcomes that.”
An air of whimsy is unmistakable in “Flowers-o’-the-Moon.”
“One of many things that people respond to in Erin’s work is that she’s not afraid of cuteness,” said Paitz. “And fun and embracing these things instead of hiding from them. Sometimes there’s such a critical bent that it feels like you’re not allowed to have fun with the work at all. But I think she’s found a really successful way to bring criticality in, but also embracing fun and whimsy and cute.”
“Cute can be powerful,” declared Hayden. “It can be a real strength. There are so many things that are really beautiful and honest in that cute space that we should embrace and not be ashamed of.”
“Flowers-o'-the-Moon” is currently up through Oct. 20 at University Galleries in Normal.
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