Stephen Hayes – American Hustle
Dimensions: 64 x 31 x 8″
Medium: mixed media
Stephen Hayes “American Hustle” features an image of a horse with a multitude of uneven table legs rather than its own legs. Hayes considers this analagous to the Black experience, where human beings desiring self agency are hobbled by the circumstances they face. In this work, a golden noose is placed around the horse’s neck, harkening back to the realities of lynching during the Jim Crow era of American history. The mirror behind the horse’s head asks us to see ourselves and consider the role our own ancestors may have played in creating this type of reality.
Stephen L. Hayes, Jr. makes art—woodcuts, sculptures, installations small and large—from found materials that draw on social and economic themes ingrained in the history of America and African-Americans. His approach is simple: “If I can’t find it, I’ll make it. If I can’t make it, I’ll find it.”
He went to North Carolina Central University, aiming to transfer to North Carolina State University to study mechanical engineering. Instead, through a friend, he discovered graphic design. His new major led to a ceramics course, where his enthusiasm and skill led to being allowed as much time as he wanted on the wheel. He threw enough pots to develop a strong portfolio, leading to a residency at the acclaimed New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. Hayes earned an MFA in sculpture at Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. His thesis exhibition, Cash Crop, has been traveling and exhibiting for nearly a decade.
Frequently in his work, Hayes uses three symbols: a pawn, a corn, and a horse to explore America’s use (or misuse) of Black bodies, Black minds, and Black labor. Artists, he believes, are as much translators as they are creators.