Flex Gallery and the Work of Angelica Hay

Angelica Hay Untitled Acrylic on canvas armband. 2017Angelica Hay. Untitled. Acrylic on canvas armband. 3″ x 14″. 2017.

by Zachary Johnson

In response to a lack of public art opportunities during winter, on January 11th, I launched Flex Gallery, a mobile public art space located on my left arm. For the project, I sent canvas armbands to six artists, requesting they turn them into artworks. Each artist works in a wide variety of media, and I provided them with no themes or limitations other than the dimensions of the band. For the past two weeks, I wore the work of Angelica Hay, a local painter, MFA student at KCAD, and member of the Collective Artspace. I spoke with her last week to learn more about her work and her creative process.

Zachary Johnson (ZJ): Now, you had a background in science before art, is that right?Angelica Hay (AH): Yeah, I started out with art as a hobbyist. I was a microbiologist.

ZJ: Did you go to school for art in addition to science? Did you pursue it in classes?
AH: No. I did it in high school. I was interested in art since I was very young. It was my passion. I just wasn’t brave enough to follow through with it when I was younger. There was a constant reminder that other things were more practical and that art could always be a hobby. I chose to take what I was told was the most practical route.

ZJ: Was that internal pressure or parental pressure?
AH: Parental pressure. So I got my bachelors in microbiology and molecular genetics; I worked in a lab for a few years. And then I sold diagnostic kits to labs. I kept painting the whole time, but you know, you don’t have too much time to do that when you’re working full time and commuting a lot.

I was living in Colorado working in a lab, and then when [my husband] Ryan finished grad school, we moved back to Michigan. I got a job as a sales rep in Lansing. About a month after we moved back, Ryan was in a really bad [car] accident, so that was a really difficult year. By the end of that year, we had decided that life was too short. So, I quit my career, and I moved to Grand Rapids because I’d heard there was an art scene here. I got a job hosting at The Green Well, and a friend of mine there was curating Off Center Gallery, their gallery space, so I started curating with her. Then I became the curator when she left, and I just started pursuing art more seriously because I’d always wanted to.

Angelica Hay in Grand Rapids 2017

Angelica Hay, 2017

ZJ: So then if you hadn’t studied art in higher education, how did you learn your techniques?
AH: I just picked it up. I would see a medium I really liked in a painting [and study it]. Growing up we always went to art museums. That was always my birthday gift because that’s what I always wanted.

ZJ: What museums were you going to?
AH: The Art Institute of Chicago and then just when we’d visit other cities, we’d go. I remembered when I turned 18, I visited the DIA in Detroit for the first time. I stood in front of the paintings for a really long time, staring at them, trying to figure out how they were painted. I always got books about painting and would try to figure out how to recreate things other people did. Recently, I’ve used Youtube too. Really in the last few years I learned how to do a lot of things from Youtube, like using mediums to mix in with paint. I watch tutorials about all sorts of materials. Currently I’m going to school for art. I got into Kendall and I’m getting my masters in painting there.

Angelica Hay Untitled Oil and acrylic on birch canvas 48 x 48 2016Angelica Hay. Untitled. Oil and acrylic on birch canvas. 48″ x 48″. 2016.

ZJ: So what did you practice looks like a couple of years ago when you were starting to recommit to it, versus now?
AH: When I first started committing to it, I didn’t really know how to go about doing it. So, I started applying to art festivals, thinking that would be a way to sell…and show my work, and that’s a really hard market to tap into. It’s very niche. You kind of have to be offering a product, and my paintings were never quite that. So I found myself trying to make paintings I thought people would want to buy, instead of making paintings for myself. It wasn’t very satisfying, and I don’t like any of the paintings from that time, looking back on them.

ZJ: Was your subject matter the same then as it is now?
AH: No, it’s totally different. Because all I had known was the science world, I was trying to integrate science into my work for the first time. So I had a lot of genetic code [in my work] and things like that. But I didn’t have a clear subject matter, and I was really interested in butterflies at the time. I was trying to just mash them together, but there was nothing I really had an emotional connection to. It was just me making paintings to get back into painting, but I was mostly meandering.

Angelica Hay. With Your Eyes Closed Close Your Eyes Mixed media on birch panel 24 x 24 2015Angelica Hay. With Your Eyes Closed. Close Your Eyes. Mixed media on birch panel. 24 x 24″. 2015.

ZJ: So then what are you making work about currently?
AH: I’m still working on how to totally articulate what they’re about. In a vague sense, they’re about coping with loss and identity. They came after a traumatic time in my life. Ultimately they’re a way for me to cope with pregnancy loss, so a lot of them revolve around the alienation that comes with experiencing something like that.

Now my latest paintings are moving away dealing with this sadness and trying to make sense of things. They’re moving outside of my home and into the natural world. So, I’m focusing on botanicals and the outdoors in them. They’re hopefully very peaceful.

ZJ: Do you have an artist you really enjoy right now?
AH: I really like Jenny Morgan’s work. She’s a figurative painter. I can’t really speak to what her work’s about, but they’re really stunning paintings. They’ve got this really emotional quality because of her color choice. And I’m really big on color. They’re just beautiful.

ZJ: Can you remember something in your life that was particularly visually striking?
AH: About five years ago, Ryan and I took a road trip on the Pacific Northwest. We went from Seattle down to San Francisco, so we drove down coastal Oregon where it was just cliffs. It was really stormy and grim and grey, and it looked really surreal. It was violent, but calm and quiet at the same time.

Then during that trip we went to a redwood forest, and I’d never seen anything like that. We walked in there, and I’ve never felt so terrified by nature in my entire life; I was so afraid. I don’t know if it was just the scale, but my anxiety skyrocketed when I was there because everything was so large. I just felt I was being swallowed up by this forest.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Posts about Flex Gallery by Zachary Johnson are also available via instagram and tumblr under the name Vis Ed.


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