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David Hayes sculpture on view at the Snite Museum of Art
Griffon, 1989. Painted Steel.

NOTRE DAME, IN.- An art exhibition organized in memory of Notre Dame alum David Hayes ‘53, who died in April 2013, at the age of 82 (b. 1931) went on view Friday, May 31. After graduating from Notre Dame, Hayes undertook graduate work at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he studied with American sculptor David Smith and graduated with a MFA in 1955.

Throughout an artistic career that spanned six decades, he created graceful sculptures abstracted from organic forms encountered in his daily life. For example, the monumental Griffon sculpture located in front of the Snite Museum of Art is based on leaves.

His sculptures have affinities to Alexander Calder’s playful stabiles (he met Calder in Paris) and to the shapes and colors of Matisse’s late paper cutouts. His works are firmly rooted in Modern artists’ interests in industrial materials and in commercial fabrication processes.

Hayes' work has been seen in hundreds of exhibitions in the United States, France, and the Netherlands. His sculptures are in the collections of more than 100 museums, including The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Detroit Institute of the Arts; and the Snite Museum of Art.

Viewers might be surprised to learn that the 27-foot-tall, commercially-fabricated, Rustoleum-flat-black, steel Griffon sculpture has roots in nature, as initially captured on an intimate scale by the human hand. This preparatory drawing for the sculpture shows contour lines that take their curves from outlines of leaves––favorite shapes within Hayes’s visual vocabulary. They were captured in quick gesture drawings, such as this one, and then repeated in three-dimensional steel shapes that created visual rhythms pleasing to the artist. In this way, the artist believed all of his artworks to be natural, stating that his hard-edge steel sculptures “are organic,” and that “they should feel like they belong in nature.”

Despite its origins in plant forms, Hayes titled the work Griffon after it was fabricated and installed, because it reminded him of the mythological figure with head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. Therefore, the work can be interpreted as a mythological sentinel guarding the Snite Museum of Art. However, like many Modern and contemporary artists, Hayes encouraged viewers to bring their own experiences and interpretations to the sculptures. Thus, Hayes would likely have found other interpretations amusing—such as a favorite of some ND students, who see a crashed fighter jet.

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