It’s the Friday before Easter in Luzzo’s Pizza at 310 Bowery Bar when Jeanette Hayes tells me she recently went to confession for the first time in years. When the priest asked Hayes what her sin was, the artist responded, “Twenty years of being human.” “He was like, ‘Your penance is taking communion,’ ” recounts Hayes. “I didn’t care about any religion until art history. Then I got so into it.” That was back when Hayes was attending an art high school in Chicago. As a freshman, she thought she wanted to be a comic-book illustrator, thanks to the influence of her math-professor father, who collected comic books. “I figured out, ‘Oh no, fine art is a much different thing, and that’s what I want,’ ” she explains. The rising art star, who now lives in downtown New York, has been gaining momentum over the past few years, thanks to a number of big breaks. Despite a rocky start after finishing art school at the Pratt Institute because of a last-minute solo-exhibition cancellation at a gallery, Hayes persevered; she began inviting people over for studio visits to see her wild, large-scale amalgamations of Willem de Kooning’s female figures mixed in with images of the female anime superhero Sailor Moon, who would go on to become a constant presence in her work. “She really looked like those women in the paintings, and I realized she’s really fun to paint afterwards,” says Hayes. That eventually led to an exhibition at Castor Gallery. Then there was the introduction to fashion label Proenza Schouler from her friend Jen Brill. Hayes ended up making graphics and GIFs for the brand and the fashion world caught on. She modeled for Opening Ceremony and then was tapped to create a video installation for one of Alexander Wang’s lauded afterparties. Unlike several other artists who have been frowned upon by the art establishment due to their fashion-related activities, Hayes maintains that attitudes have changed in the last five years and that it hasn’t affected her, bringing up Jeff Koons’s recent Louis Vuitton collaboration as an example. “It’s a stigma people are aware of,” she says. “Now people understand if it’s hot it’s hot.” When Hayes first moved to New York to attend art school, she lived with a friend’s family. It was at Pratt that artist Mickalene Thomas became one of her instructors. “The best professor I ever had in my life was Mickalene Thomas,” she says as we walk to The Hole, where her work is featured as part of a group exhibition. “She really cared. That’s what made her great.” At The Hole, four paintings of Sailor Moon, mashed up with other pop-culture iconography, like Darth Vader and the Paramount Pictures logo, hang on the wall. “It’s just what I like, and also what I think will look cool,” says Hayes of the fragments from art history and current imagery she instills in her work. Hayes has a realistic approach to being an artist today. She knows she’s making something that will eventually be put on the market for a collector to purchase. “I’m making something that will be sold, but I really like it,” she says. “There’s no romantic veneer.” And she isn’t afraid to confront the controversial, like she did when she discovered that someone she knew had signed a petition to have Dana Schutz’s “Open Casket”—a portrait of Emmett Till, the African-American teenager who was brutally lynched in 1955 after being wrongly accused of flirting with a white woman, lying in his coffin—removed from the Whitney Biennial and destroyed. “You put that name on that list. The only people who destroy art in history are Nazis,” Hayes told the acquaintance. “Did you just call me a Nazi?” asked the individual. “That is not the conversation I was having,” Hayes responded. Hayes has a lot on her plate, like a solo exhibition this summer at the gallery of her friend and fellow artist Aurel Schmidt, then another solo exhibition at Castor, projects during Art Basel in Miami Beach in December and a possible fashion collaboration. As for her critics? “That’s just people hating,” says Hayes. “Let people live. I have a cool job. Don’t get mad at it.” — RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE VISIT AGOLDE.COM
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