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Painting The Internet: Jeanette Hayes' Art For The Digital Age

The creator talks to us about blending low brow with high art.

Madison Alexander Moore


Come Si Dice Webcam Girls courtesy of Jeanette Hayes.

People love capturing great works of art with their smartphones, whether it’s allowed or not. You know the drill: you coyly snap a picture of a famous artwork and if the gallery attendant comes by to slap you on the wrist–no photography!–you pretend you were sending a text message or something. In any case, the smartphone has become a major character in museums and art galleries around the world.

That’s what makes the works of New York-based artist Jeanette Hayes so meta.

Blurring the lines between fine art history, digital life and technology, Hayes’ first exhibition at Motelsalieri Gallery in Rome includes several pieces that look like blown up pictures of iPhone home screens. Take a closer look, though, and you’ll discover that this mash-up between art history and pop culture is totally rendered in oil paint, not unlike the way other artists before her, from Picasso to Warhol, brought the everyday to the level of art.


Is My iPhone Locked courtesy of Jeanette Hayes.

In 2012 Hayes, who studied at Pratt, was featured in the much talked about “Hearsay”exhibition at the Half Gallery in New York alongside Jemima Kirke of Girls and Jay Miriam. Further cementing her downtown cool meets art world street cred is her graphic design and modeling work for Opening Ceremony, Proenza Schouler, and Alexander Wang.

On the occasion of her gallery show in Rome, The Creators Project caught up with Hayes and talked about Instagram filters, emoji and Tamar Braxton – because, why not?

The Creators Project: When did you get your first smartphone?
Jeanette Hayes: I got my first cellphone when I was like eleven. My first smartphone was the iPhone, the very first iPhone that came out. I’d just started college and I loved it. I was one of those people that waited for it and got it the day it came out. I was one of those girls. Then after a year and a half I got my first BlackBerry. I was late to the BlackBerry game, but then I switched back to an iPhone.

Hayes strikes a pose in Rome, via Purple Magazine.

You moved from Chicago to New York to study at Pratt. Were you already producing the kind of classical painting meets digital culture work you’re making now or did you discover it along the way?
At Pratt I was really just learning skills I felt like. But then at the same time I was on the Internet a lot and staying up with everything else that was going on. By the time I was graduating it started to come together.

One of the paintings you showed in Rome is an iPhone home screen with the Instagram app right on top. I thought it was really apt and meta in the way it points to the lines between technology and contemporary image making. I can take a picture of my dinner, run it through Instagram and suddenly it has this artistic quality and a lot of “Likes.”
That’s how the world is and it’s cool because why not? If you want to fix something or look a certain way you now can do exactly what you want. When it comes to filters and things I think there should be hundreds more. It’s insane that we’re stuck with the eleven or whatever filters they pick. There could be so many cool different ones: futuristic ones, tech ones, painter ones. They could get really in-depth with that.

Hayes' recent solo exhibition in Rome juxtaposed the digital with the (purposefully) unpolished. 

Is that something that you’d be interested in getting involved with, making cool filters for digital photos?
Well yeah, sure! I have a lot of ideas for it. I think with that it’s like how you can’t make more emoji because emoji is a set language in the keyboard.

Speaking of emoji, I just saw the screen grab you posted on Twitter of your most recently used emoji. Lots of stars and hearts!
[Laughs] I’ve been thinking a lot about emoji because I’m doing this emoji painting. I’m figuring it out, it’s for an emoji show next month. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be but I’m trying to get cracking and get it going.

What is your process? How do you take these icons and make them something like an icon of an icon?
Usually I have an idea and I just execute it. It’s weird when I’m in a themed thing where I think about what I should do to fit the guidelines of the show. It doesn’t usually happen like this, it’s usually just like, “Oh, that’ll look good.”

Les Demoiselles de'Animeme courtesy of Jeanette Hayes.

And speaking of icons on icons, there are apps out there that let us put reproductions of art works as the background on our phones or computer desktops. Your work is surreal in that it kind of speaks to personalization and customization through art.
Tight, so tight. I’ve seen these apps but it’s always like Kawaii and Hello Kitty. I’ve never seen a painter’s one–I’m going to look it up because I would really love it. That painting I did with the icons, those are my real backgrounds. I changed it now because I can’t hold onto something that long. But I always have really nice screensavers because I have to look at it all the time. It should be something that you’re supposed to be looking at for a long time. You’re supposed to study paintings so you might as well have it somewhere where you’re constantly looking at it. You use your phone, you adore your phone, it’s like your little god. You might as well put little iconographic imagery to adore on there.

I’m wondering, too, how your engagement with pop culture impacts your art practice. I can tell by your Twitter bio that you love Tamar Braxton.
[Laughs]I love Tamar Braxton so much! She is amazing. In my Twitter bio I have a few people that I relate to and like and Amber Rose was one but now I have to let her go. So right now it’s between Nene Leakes and Tamar, and I think it’s gonna be Tamar. First of all she gets everything she wants and she is so funny. She’s like a boss and pretty smart, too. She sees through everything and she sounds a little crazy, but in the end she’s usually correct.

I wanted to ask you about GIFs – I know there is some debate on how this thing is pronounced –
GIFs, hard G, like gift.

Do you have any idea why GIFs are so popular right now?
Because they’re so fun! They’re hilarious. And, if you’re going to be sending imagery around you might as well be sending moving, fun images. I like them because they’re like three-second movies, or however long, but they’re very quick. You have to get an idea across with a narrative, like you’re telling a fast little story.

Pope Keyboard courtesy of Jeanette Hayes.

There’s something very Warholian you’re doing about mixing the high culture of art history with the supposed lowness of pop culture and mass technology. Is this something you think about?
I like that. For me it’s natural progression because I’m looking at art history and so much contemporary art, and that’s my love and my life. But then at the same time I have to check TMZ. Pop culture is so great. And because these are the two things that I’m obsessed with, that’s what I want to make work about, too.

I’m the same way.I love classical music but I will drop it like it’s hot to Beyoncé in a heartbeat while reading TMZ. It’s almost like people expect us to pick one a side – high or low – and stay there.
I know! I think it’s so funny that it’s a weird thing to talk about everything you like as opposed to focusing in on one thing. I understand focusing on one thing so you can really explore it, but I think it’s more interesting to talk about everything we like and make it all work together somehow and be friends. 

You can check out more Jeanette Hayes on her Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram.