Serious Play | A Look at Jodi Hays' "Plans"

Photo by Eden Anyabwile

Photo by Eden Anyabwile

“Plans” is currently on display in the Kresge Memorial Library Art Gallery until February 28th.

“Contrary to popular belief, we love color.” This is how Professor Jeffrey Morton kicked off the opening of Jodi Hays’ show “Plans” on January 23rd, and Hays’ work is indeed vibrant and colorful, a welcome respite from the gray foggy month of January.

Hays grew up in rural Arkansas in a town of 2000 people, and because of the lack of an art community in her town, she drew inspiration from her surroundings.

“The way that I came to understand art and painting and art history was through landscape and through landscape painting,” she said.

For Hays, a painting should function like a landscape. It should take the viewer for a walk, bringing them into the space it portrays, rather than shutting them out.

In her early years as an artist, Hays also drew inspiration from things like “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which she grew up watching with her mom and sister every morning.  “‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ is brilliant at framing an experience for the viewer...When you grow up in a place that isn’t an art center, these are things that are important. What becomes your habit? My studio practice was watching Oprah with my mom with coffee every morning.”

She went on to explain that the camera angles and techniques used in “Oprah” later informed her practice as a painter, as she used the memories of that habit to develop a new way of seeing, both for her, as the artist, and for her viewers.

The idea of habits also plays a key role in how Hays thinks about painting. She tries to paint something every day, because she believes that our habits shape us and the way that we see the world. This habit of painting every day is also a sort of journal that Hays keeps. As written in the artist’s statement, “Her objects measure evidence of a day’s accomplishment.” For Hays, painting is a way to document her memories, the seemingly insignificant parts of her life that might otherwise be forgotten.

Later on, in her college years, Hays was particularly drawn to “disinterested” painters such as Gerard Richter.

“The use of photography as fodder for painting outside of the photographic medium is really important to me,” she said. Hays uses all sorts of unconventional photographic devices to draw inspiration from, including her digital camera, the security camera outside of her front door, and the baby monitor set above her child’s crib. This photographic inspiration can be seen in several of her works on display in Kresge, including “Crib,” a work of gouache and ink on paper, situated to the left on the back wall of the Kresge gallery, as well as her work “Be Safe,” the second piece on the right in the gallery, which was inspired by the security camera outside of her front door.

Hays’ work is concerned with the mundane, the seemingly insignificant, but it is also an example of how playfulness is inherently linked to creativity, and is actually far more serious than we think. Hays takes the ordinary aspects of her life and adds vibrant, playful colors to them to draw her viewers in, challenging them to look, not just see, and to be willing to be surprised and shaped by what they find.