Victor Hayden interview by Kevin Delaney

The following interview – Roses and Thorns – originally appeared on the website called The Victor Hayden Experience. It disappeared from the web a few years ago. I think the interview was conducted around 2000.


Kevin Delaney: When did you start painting?

Victor Hayden: I think I started painting around 7. I don’t know why I have that number in my head, except that I like the imagery of 7. It was 7 or maybe younger. I realized then that I was absolutely obsessed with being an abstract expressionist. I was overwhelmed by the New York school of painting. My favorite of course being the least recognized to this day unfortunately, Franz Kline, who was known for his large black and white pieces, almost Japanese in their understated power. That really moved me, and that became my life goal and my priority, to the degree that I was obsessed on a cellular level with painting. I basically at that point realized that that would be the reason for staying on the planet in this incarnation.

It’s evolved to where I am now, and I’ve somehow survived this long, through many nightmares. It’s very difficult to die every day. Basically that has been part of a daily thing for me, and I’ve also been able to paint at the same time, which is quite a bit to do in a day. And I’ve been doing it for about thirty years.

KD: Despite the occasional bit of major recognition, such as the Absolut Vodka ad, you’ve mostly kept yourself apart from the world of galleries and contemporary art. What’s your take on the art world?

Hayden: There were a few years where I detested anything to do with art. I still do, to be frank with you. In terms of the traditional galleries, higher-than-thou, full of one’s own shit to the degree that you can’t see beyond yourself, the lack of the ability to recognize the capacity to remain a witness to your own script really pisses me off.

I love everyone, and god bless everyone, but I’d just as soon gut everybody that has anything to do with art. I see no reason in going through somebody else’s eyes to show my work. But it is also a wonderful thing to have a wall that somebody has established that I can put my paintings on and the run-of-the-mill or the mainstream flow of traffic will go in to see it because it says “gallery.” And I’m very appreciative of that.

Really, I don’t feel any connection with anything at all. I don’t feel any connection with anything or anyone. I have moments where I feel very attached to certain moods, but at the same time forgetting how quickly a mood can change. Forgetting how they present the illusion of permanence and will not change is devastating. Getting rid of of what doesn’t matter in the composition is just a wonderful thing to accomplish. My only goal is to make people laugh and to scare them. I just want people to enjoy the work. There’s nothing hidden going on, there’s nothing intellectual going on. They’re basically just primitive, almost sub-human images that I do out of necessity. It’s really a selfish thing that I do. If someone enjoys seeing them, it’s a wonderful thing.

KD: I noticed that you don’t sign your paintings.

Hayden: People ask, “Why don’t you sign them?” For the sake of the composition. “So you don’t want to see your name on there?” That’s right, I don’t. If you don’t know that I did it well I guess I didn’t do my job, right? I had a dramatic change, a vision of how I needed to paint, and I changed dramatically, in a day. It’s almost like I had brought it back to life, meaning that I had been into a similar view many years ago. All of my work I think has an obvious connection, even my abstracts. You can see that it’s my work if you really look at it. It’s not hidden and difficult.

I hope they’re almost edible and organic, that they’re very transient and not precious. And yet they are truly life-threatening, and I’ve given my life to them, so they are of the utmost importance and value, beyond paint. But then again I don’t want them to be perceived that way. I mean, you should wear German latex surgical gloves when even getting near them, that’s my preference. Or white cotton gloves, 100% white unbleached cotton from Egypt, that would be my goal when handling them. They’re that precious. But on the other hand it’s okay if a little animal decides to walk across them and create a tunnel of excrement. I wouldn’t mind. When it comes to a fellow creature like a human being or someone that’s learning to walk upright and has a vertical urge, then I would be leery of even thinking about it. Which is terrible, I don’t mean to sound negative towards what I am, but I really do feel that way. I’d just as soon see everyone go away. Permanently. Get off this planet now.

KD: Including yourself?

Hayden: Oh yeah, quite often. I think it should all be snuffed out. I vacillate between wanting to do everything I can to preserve Mother Earth and at other times I feel that the only goal is to proceed with the destruction of the planet and move forward as soon as possible. In other words just a burned-out, charred remains. I think that would be an interesting focus, as opposed to saving the whales and saving the humans, and all the other bumper stickers you see around. Maybe just let the things survive that have survived, the beautiful roaches and the rats. Just a planet of those two guys hanging out would be nice. I mean, they have survived it all.

KD: Who knows what they could evolve into? Or if they could mate…

Hayden: I was just going to say that, you read my mind. I think to encourage them mating would be a real positive beginning.

KD: These environmental themes are evident in your paintings, for instance the devil stepping on the sunflower, holding the candle…

Hayden: Which is a petroleum product. Hopefully it’s playful and not too heavy-handed. I detest anything that even hints at being politically correct. Whoever even came up with that phrase should be hung upside-down and gutted in a public arena, left there to dry properly, then sculpted into a garbage can. I really am more fond of the 30’s and 40’s imagery, the time when nature seemed to be what people reflected off of more than now, and I try to incorporate that into the feeling, by the people and the objects. I have certain paintings that are only objects, which I am very fond of. I’m trying to incorporate that inanimate or supposedly unanimated object with a living, breathing person suffering from that vertical urge, trying to defy gravity. At the same time, having the heaviness of the load of an art deco steam iron coming at you at about 500 miles an hour, and trying to dodge that. To me, that’s the idea of a good painting.

Zooming into the pure colors that I use, the real pure opaque, hard to reproduce colors that I use, layer upon layer to get it more dense, that kind of color, only going to the meat department in a large supermarket, focusing in on that, and instead of fresh-cut animals under stretched cellophane, they would be chrome-plated circa 1951 ice cream scoops of freshly-ground houseflies. Steaming. Because they are still warm from the grinder, with the cellophane stretched over them so you get those little drops of moisture underneath. Now that to me is a beautiful image. That’s worth getting out of bed for in the morning.

KD: Is this an image you want to create in your art?

Hayden: Yes, that is something that would motivate me to get up and paint.

KD: Why?

Hayden: Just the fact that somebody had taken over the meat department and decided that was the necessary thing to put on display for that day’s shoppers. For the door buster sale. Can’t you just see them holding onto their hats in the wind trying to get to the meat department…

KD: And they’d probably buy it, too.

Hayden: Oh, yeah. And steal it. Big purses opening up, all those metal clasps going off at the same time. “I got mine!”

KD: How would you define art?

Hayden: Let’s see. . . Well . . . I don’t know. I really don’t. In fact, what does the word mean, in terms of it’s origins?

KD: It could be anything.

Hayden: It could be somebody’s robe, the way it dragged across the dirt in Jerusalem.

Seriously, there is an answer for that. I want to be really corny, because I love corny things. I think it’s in the eye of the beholder. I love that cliche. Art is very personal, and yet it’s one of the only universal things that exists. That and music. Art meaning painting, if we’re referring to painting. I just think it’s a big struggle. It’s very difficult to put something in a one-dimensional space on a flat surface, and have it really reflect light the way you want it to. I think that’s the goal, to get it to reflect back to other people accurately. I guess just to be stirred up emotionally is the reason for doing it. To hopefully break up patterns, and to create new patterns.

KD: You’ve described yourself as an outsider. How do you think this perspective has affected your work?

Hayden: I’ve worked on intensifying my perception, my capacity to go beyond the surface, specifically with people, because of not wanting to be gutted by them. I try to incorporate all the possibilities that exist with each image that I put there. Whether it’s an inanimate object, or has the illusion of it. You know molecular vibration never stops, everything is vibrating and moving. It just gives the illusion of being solid. So whether it’s a piece of rope or a piece of hand, to me it all vibrates on a similar but different level, and I like to combine those elements. I think that when I become the thing, the rope or the hand, or the flower or the child, I think that’s the only way to really observe it properly. But then it’s also nice to look at it from a distance. I try to incorporate every possible view, every possible shadow that it may cast from every possible angle that a person may observe it from, whether it’s through the eyeballs or the brain.

On any level whatsoever I try to cover that possibility and include that so you can really see every possibility that exists, whether you’re aware of it or not. So that’s the goal of being a witness. But also being a witness to the witness is a necessity, by becoming the thing that I’m painting. I become that which I want to paint, and then I detach myself from the thing that I’ve just become so I can walk around it, or fly around it, and have every possible view that it is, could be, or may have been. And then I try to paint it with paints and a paintbrush on the surface of usually paper or canvas.

KD: Certain images recur in your work, the amputated legs…

Hayden: Or ice-cream sticks. They could simply be beautiful second-growth unfinished pine ice cream sticks.

Some of the people, their limbs have been rounded off instead of having traditionally formed legs and feet. That is true. That is really only for the composition’s sake. Only because I think it’s a more beautiful image. I like rounded edges. If I need a rounded edge, it doesn’t matter if it’s a human being’s leg. If necessary I’ll eliminate their head completely. Amputation, decapitation. . . Visiting the guillotine to get the composition down properly, there’s no problem. I just say, “Stand in line, I want to see a curve there.” That’s the beauty of it. So off go their heads. Let them eat cake.

KD: The image of the bees. . .

Hayden: I love insects. Bees especially I’m very fond of. I think they really have the answers that we’re looking for. Absolutely. In their lifestyle. I think it’s really something we should try to mimic. I just think they function very well. They make lots of beautiful tasty sweet honey that’s very good for you. You can basically live on that. They know what they were born to do, and they stick to it. They don’t get in the way of each other. A drone is a drone, and it’s good to know you’re a drone and you ought to just do that for your life and just stay out of the way of others that aren’t drones. I really do believe in that. I think people should find out what they were born to do and do it. It’s all equally important, in other words.

What I really think about them is that they are very beautiful. And I like the fact that they can sting you.

KD: Even though the bee dies when it stings you.

Hayden: I know. But it’s worth it, isn’t it? I really don’t see any reason in picking the rose when you can pick the thorn. I think the thorns are far more beautiful than the rose.

The white space to me is even more important than the image on it. That is the very challenging part. It’s quite easy to fill up a surface with a lot of images, isn’t it? But to only have the right ones there at the right time, that is definitely hard to do. My goal is to have it work both ways, to have both areas equally important. I don’t think that one should outweigh the other. It’s really a balancing act.

Just by changing one half-inch of something that’s a mile in diameter, you will then have to go and change the entire rest of the mile to compensate for that. It is such a delicate balance. It is really microscopic at times.

KD: Some of your works have titles or captions . . .

Hayden: Sometimes it just looks so lovely there. The type, the hand-printed lettering so primitively done, I think it just adds to the feeling.

KD: They’re almost like pages from a childrens alphabet book, A is for . . . B is for . . .

Hayden: I did a series of paintings called The Alphabet Series. That was the first thing that got me back into this style of painting. Like big pages out of a book. People said “Oh, you mean an alphabet book for adults?” No, not for adults. For anybody. I try to do stuff that appeals to everybody, but really my target is children.

KD: Certainly there are a lot of child-like themes in your work.

Hayden: Children respond to my work better than so-called adults, whatever that is. Children spend more time looking at my work than their parents do. Then that gets into the whole question of what’s an adult, are you talking about state of mind or evolution or karma. . . I just think that children really seem to appreciate it. They know what I mean. That’s important to me, that reinforces that I’m on the right track. They really know, they’re not fucked up yet. They haven’t been conditioned and told how to see things.

KD: If a child likes something, they’ll say “I like it.” If not, they won’t look at it.

Hayden: They’re totally honest. They’re my critics.

KD: The image of the masks . . .

Hayden: They’re just beautiful things that I see. All of those things are things I see or want to see. If I can’t see them, I’m going to paint them so I can see them. That drives me, satisfying my urge to see certain things happen. I can only wait so long. You know you can die waiting for things to come around like that. How long do I have to wait before the bees get into the position where they’re able to move these masks around at will and basically take over and animate these supposedly unanimated objects such as a mask. So instead of waiting to see that, which I haven’t seen yet, I decided to paint them. They’re just things that I love to see. Very basic reasons.

KD: Why do you love to see them?

Hayden: It’s like eating. It’s more important than food, it’s life.

KD: What about the long black spikes or spears?

Hayden: They’re mounted. They’re severely mounted in the heaviness of the load of the substance they’ve attached themselves to. They’re looking for a sense of stability, and of course it happens to be casting a shadow that day because there’s some source of light. But basically they’re just doing what they need to do. They were basically born to do this, and I was born to capture it and show it to you. I was fortunate to be witness to them doing it, and I was able to capture that on the canvas. I feel very happy that they would allow me to share that experience with them long enough to project it. To have a view into the unconscious world of molecules is the icing on the cake.

Certainly nothing is more important than anything else, unless you decide that it is, right? It probably isn’t any more important to live than it is to die. Everything in between, I don’t know what it is. I guess it’s either fun or it’s pain. Preferably pain. I think we can learn more from pain.

1 Comment

  1. sad to hear of his passing. just like don he had his own way of painting and thought process.

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