Left: Nathan Hayden, “Shapes For Shadows 1”, 2015. Ceramic, 7 x 5 x 7 in.; Right: Nathan Hayden, “Shapes For Shadows 2”, 2015. Ceramic, 7.5 x 6.75 x 7.5 in.
The abstract ceramic shapes by artist Nathan Hayden could be creatures from another planet or undiscovered breathing life forms surviving deep in the sea. However, they were rolled, pinched and sculpted leaving only a thin, hollow center untouched by human hands. This empty cylinder is in every piece for us to peer through, in his show entitled Talk To The Eye at CB1 Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles.
While Talk To The Eye and the experience of looking through the art may have a spiritual or even comical connection for us, Hayden describes several other interpretations. “The hole is the third eye, the Cyclops, the center, the core, the mouth, the anus, the internal. All of the sculptures reference the animal/figure in part because they are a pink fleshy color and in part because they are approximately symmetrical. For animals it is important that they have a hole at the top and a hole at the bottom that are connected,” Says Hayden.
With over a decade of solo and group shows nationwide, Hayden’s inspiration for this exhibit derive from his memories of rural West Virginia mixed with current observations of nature, modern constructs and a daily dance routine through which he explores shapes in space. “Each day, I dance for one hour, conjuring visions, which I use to create my drawings, paintings, sculptures and installations,” says Hayden. “I do also spend a lot of time looking at forms that occur in nature: bones, flowers, trees, birds, etc. but spend a lot of time looking at architectural forms, too.
“Perhaps moving my body activates my imagination and allows all of the forms I experience to synthesize into archetypal shapes,” says Hayden.
Nathan Hayden breathes life into his forms, making us part of the art experience via our desire to walk around, look through, and recognize the life-like properties while considering how they were designed. Hayden says, “I think that it is an artist’s job to take the familiar apart and reassemble it in order to see the world differently. The sculptures have an animate quality to them, but I also see the series in Talk to the Eye as architectural. My current series of sculptures are becoming more creature-like though.”
In addition, his pinching and forming technique is quite remarkable. “I start with a single ball of clay, pulling, pinching and smoothing it into four vertical flat shapes symmetrically converging at a central point,” explains Hayden. “Most people assume that I slab roll, cut out the forms and piece them together, but no, each one is hand sculpted. As I go through the process I carefully guide the clay symmetrically outwards, rotating them and working on all sides to keep them evenly balanced. Another difficult thing about the process is getting all of the components to dry evenly.”
One versatile aspect of this “Shapes For Shadows” ceramic series is they can stand in a reversed position. Creating this kind of symmetry and balance is challenging, but the result is beautiful to look at. As examples, Hayden mentions Shadow #4 and Shadow #13. “They are not entirely balanced to stand on all sides. The fact that many of them could stand upside down is partially due to the way they are built. Approximate symmetry, gravity and balance all play major roles in building these sculptures.
“I have a background in biology and engineering so I consider both those disciplines, as they are important to sound construction,” continues Hayden. “The sculptures are oriented the way they are meant to stand. We often experience forms that could be oriented in multiple ways in nature. A flower could grow up or hang down. #4 has flower and bone like qualities; #13 relates to birds.”
Perception is an integral part of our enjoyment and appreciation of art. In Nathan Hayden’s Shapes for Shadows we are encouraged to philosophize. When we think of shadows, we generally think about light, and whatever objects it mimics. Shadows appearing unexpectedly, take on different properties of size and volume, all of which surprises us. Hayden’s small structure sizes – approximately 9 x 7 x 9 – have unpredictable variance too, from the visible pinching dynamics to the trompe l’oeil appearance of some of the object’s dimensionality. Says Hayden, “From certain perspectives their symmetry allows them to be read as a flat image and from others a three-dimensional object, this is similar to how shadows flatten dimensionality.”
Hayden plans to build some pieces from Talk To The Eye into to monumental sizes, and is considering a variety of mediums: “wattle and daub, rammed earth, adobe, wood and marble.” The artist is also developing a new series for a late February solo show at CB1 Gallery to include felt paintings and drawings of environments he envisions his ceramic shapes live in.
“Talk To The Eye” is on view at CB1 Gallery through Octber 31, 2015.