Interview with Donté K. Hayes
Is there a conceptual framework to your art that has been consistent throughout your career?
All of my artwork is based on research. I allow the research to dictate which medium will best explain the conceptual ideas in the work. With this in mind the themes that are consistent throughout my career stem from my interest in hip-hop culture, science fiction, and history. The artwork explores Afrofuturism, which I define as a projected vision of an imagined future which critiques the historical and cultural events of the African Diaspora and the distinct black experience of the Middle Passage. While also exploring deeper social issues which broaden the conversation between all of humanity.
What current or historical events inform the artwork you make?
The artwork speaks to the past, present, and future of the African Diaspora. The historical event from the past that informs the artwork is the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage was the middle stage of the sea voyage which millions of forced Africans were transported to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. The artwork also discusses the present through pop cultural references from Star Wars, Dr. Who, comic books, and hip –hop music to name of few. To also the recent headlines in today’s news. From these sources, the artworks purpose is to engage the viewer with possible futures that bring hope or warning to the viewer that the future depends on all of us.
What do you struggle with as an artist, or what comes easiest?
What I struggle most as an artist is remembering to rest and being fine with not making work or being in the studio 24/7. You’re not a failure if you take time for much needed self-care and self-analysis. I have realized since the pandemic to slow down and enjoy being quiet and having quality time with family and friends. What comes easiest, for me is the creative and conceptual side of making art. I never feel stuck or out of ideas to research and explore.
What do you find your audience reacts to most strongly?
I have found my audience reacts most strongly to in my artwork is the textural surface of my ceramic sculptures. Viewers have a hard time choosing what they like most about my work. Is it the form or the texture? The favorite question I seem to get by most viewers, is how I make this texture. Many times people are shocked when they find out it is made entirely out of clay and not woven thatch or fabric. It’s interesting to see the reaction when I tell viewers that the work is made from clay and the texture is created by using a needle tool.
How did you get into printmaking and ceramics? Are you interested in mixing the two media together?
I started working in printmaking through my love of drawing. I have been making prints since I first learned about relief printmaking in middle school. I haven’t stopped since. Printmaking is my first love. Now ceramics is a medium that is relatively new to me. I went to college later in life. I attended Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA. I graduated with my BFA in Printmaking and Ceramics with an Art History minor in 2017. I never even touched clay until my 30’s. The only reason why I started working in clay is because I needed to enroll a three-dimensional class to receive my BFA in Printmaking. In 2015 I enrolled in Professor Jeff Campana’s, Ceramics 1 Class. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Jeff is an amazing artist and teacher. His passion for clay and his vast knowledge of the medium inspired me to want to explore the limits of clay for myself. I’m so thankful to Jeff for being my teacher, mentor and now friend. During my first year of grad school at the University of Iowa I experimented with combing printmaking processes to my ceramic scultures. The sculpture titled, Empire Juice, was one of the works I felt best incorporated print and clay the best. I used one of my linoleum blocks to create the imagery that I then printed onto the sculpture using an ink that can be fired in the kiln.
What kind of environment helps you focus to create art?
The environment that helps me work and focus to create my artwork is any space that has music playing or television or noise in the background. When I’m vibing in the studio I’m either listening to hip-hop music in my headphones or listening to a movie that I already have seen multiple times. The movie that I always go back to when I’m in the studio is of course the O.G. of all Star Wars movies, Empire Strikes Back.