Hammer Projects: Maya Hayuk

Aug 17, 2013–Jan 5, 2014 This is a past exhibition

With their symmetrical compositions, intricate patterns, and lush colors, Maya Hayuk’s paintings and massively scaled murals recall views of outer space, traditional Ukrainian crafts, airbrushed manicures, and mandalas. Hayuk weaves visual information from her immediate surroundings into her elaborate abstractions, creating an engaging mix of referents from popular culture and advanced painting practices while connecting to the ongoing pursuit of psychedelic experience in visual form. For her first one-person museum exhibition in the United States, she will make a new site-specific mural on the Lobby Wall.

Hammer Projects: Maya Hayuk is organized by Hammer assistant curator Corrina Peipon.


Maya Hayuk was born in Baltimore in 1969. She earned a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1991 and has studied at the University of Odessa, Odessa, Ukraine, and at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine. Hayuk’s work has been the subject of one-person exhibitions and commissions at venues including Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht, the Netherlands (2012); Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, New York (2011); the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro (2011); MU, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (2010); Centro Cultural Matucana 100, Santiago, Chile (2009); the Democratic National Convention, Denver (2008); and Monster Island, Brooklyn (2005–11). Her work has been included in group exhibitions such as Streetopia, Luggage Store, San Francisco (2012); Black Light & Outer Space, Secret Project Robot, Brooklyn (2011); Rojo Nova, Museum of Image and Sound, São Paulo, Brazil (2010); Contemporary Art 2010, Ukrainian Institute of America, New York (2010); L'art modeste sous les bombes, Musée International des Arts Modestes, Sète, France (2007); and The Zine Unbound: Kults, Werewolves, and Sarcastic Hippies, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2005). Hayuk has curated numerous exhibitions and is a member of the Barnstormers collective. She lives in Brooklyn.



By Corrina Peipon

The process of painting an abstract, largely improvised mural is riddled with anxiety, the frisson of challenge and intense, protracted focus that ultimately turns a corner and becomes the pure joy of abandon. There is evidence of these psychological states in Maya Hayuk’s paintings: tight lines waver, betraying a sudden shock; diluted paint drips displaying a studied carelessness give way to languid washes of color; compact shapes in rigid geometries open out into free forms, following an invisible poetic logic. Control is visibly secured and eschewed in turn. Made in situ on deadline and fated either to be painted out after a few months or to live on in perpetuity, Hayuk’s murals are inherently risky business. The high stakes require consummate grace, but the circumstances contribute to the yield: the murals are vibrant imaginary landscapes that crackle with liveliness. 


Studying the given architecture, Hayuk searches the space for details that might inform her composition. Her insistence on close scrutiny of the environment in which a mural will come to be ensures that the painting will integrate and harmonize with the space. No matter how elaborate and bright, woozy or graphic they are, her murals are never imposing but feel natural in the spaces in which they are situated. This sensitivity to place is important; to envelop us in their possibility, the paintings must be intimately connected to their surroundings, attentive to the spatial equilibrium. Nonetheless, Hayuk’s work can’t be missed: enormous in scale, with vivid colors and kaleidoscopic patterns, her murals hum with ecstatic energy. With such intensity laid bare on the walls, the subtle allowances she makes for a particular site dissolve into our experience of the work, unobtrusively heightening our apprehension of it.

Hayuk is interested in space as a metaphor for the infinite frontier of the mind. Travel through psychological space can be a spiritual journey, an expedition into a boundless interior world that she turns inside out for us in her immersive murals. Like most psychedelic art, Hayuk’s works explore the possibility of experiencing hallucinatory visions in concert with a deep connection to one’s own body. Turning on and tuning in—via psychedelic substances, meditation, deep listening, and so on—is about connecting to esthesis and consciousness through one’s body, using the body as a medium through which one may encounter the metaphysical. Hayuk’s work gives form to and inspires such experience. While the paintings’ imagery is hallucinatory, their massive scale makes us acutely aware of our vision as being embodied. Visual pleasure is felt as an intellectual charge and as a physical sensation at once. 

Psychedelic art has an especially intimate connection with music. Nascent in the 1950s among Beat poets and becoming more prominent in the 1960s with Andy Warhol’s Factory, his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events, and the Velvet Underground, psychedelic art and music came into their own by the late 1960s with artists like Rick Griffin, Bonnie MacLean, and Wes Wilson designing posters for bands like the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Collectives like the Brotherhood of Light and the Heavy Water Light Show became famous for their liquid light shows, projections of swirling colors that accompanied psychedelic rock concerts. The relatively short history of psychedelic art involves not only music and images that document or heighten hallucinatory visions but is interconnected with countercultural impulses calling for social change (particularly the peace movement), the desire to experience altered states springing from a mistrust of dominant social ideals and official culture. In music, the repetition, improvisation, poetic lyrics, and volume that characterize psychedelic rock were revived in the lush new wave sounds of the 1980s and the independent rock scene of the 1990s. Today musicians like Animal Collective and Akron / Family—two of many bands with which Hayuk has collaborated—continue to draw from and experiment with the possibilities of psychedelic sounds and images, disregarding artistic categories in the quest for synesthesia.
Carrying on the tradition of pursuing insight through heightened awareness and engagement with the world, Hayuk’s practice extends beyond her murals, paintings, and prints into broader investigations of the potential of art to have a social impact. In 2008 she created a pro-democracy installation as part of the Democratic National Convention. From 2005 to 2011 she was part of Monster Island, a work space and collective environment in Brooklyn. Following the demolition of the building that housed Monster Island, she founded the Center for the Advancement of Contemporary Art, a work space and collaborative platform, also in Brooklyn. As part of her collaborative project with artist Jef Scharf known as the Positive Future Prophecy Posse, she has produced an ongoing series of publicly displayed posters declaring,

“The End Is Not at Hand.” 
The Positive Future Prophecy Posse encourages you to:
Celebrate Potential.
Be Your Own Prophet.
Reject Apocalyptic Visions.
Embrace New Energy and Consciousness for a REAL Future.
Realize a Progressive, Responsible Posse.
This Event Begins the Moment You Finish Reading This.
The New Calendar Begins Now.

Inherent to Hayuk’s imagery and palette—and to her practice overall—is a complex interplay between darkness and light. Anger and anxiety, depression and dissatisfaction: the negative emotions that the global state of perpetual war and economic uncertainty can provoke are very much present in her work. At the same time, in her use of buoyant hues and feel-good patterns and in the demand for optimism expressed in the Positive Future Prophecy Posse manifesto, she insists on hope. 

Hayuk’s ability to reflect the complexity of human existence through abstraction calls to mind both Jay DeFeo and Mary Heilmann, two very different artists whose relentless adherence to their own visions is shared by Hayuk. DeFeo’s massive, radiating energy fields explored the immersive possibility of painting. She was a seeker enacting a transgressive, freewheeling rejection of mainstream culture by taking a spiritual journey through her life, bringing her findings to her raw, expansive painted spaces. DeFeo pushed the physical capacity of her materials and, in doing so, gave us not only a way into her visions but also a map for exploring our own. Perhaps less inward looking, many of Heilmann’s neon and black abstractions describe the New York night. While her colors evoke the hopped-up cool of rock-and-roll city life, her contiguously arranged multipanel canvases suggest the rifts and fragmentation symptomatic of late-capitalist society and the daily traumas that it inflicts. Like the no wave and postpunk music that was also taking shape when Heilmann’s visual language was in its infancy, her colors and compositional strategies are direct responses to the world around her.

The legacy of DeFeo can be seen in Hayuk’s use of abstraction to create space and in her seeker’s heart. While Hayuk may not share the extent of DeFeo’s mysticism, their shared desire to question cultural givens and to find an individual voice reveals them to be kindred spirits. Like Heilmann, Hayuk is responding to her cultural circumstances in a personal way, weaving visual information from her immediate surroundings into her elaborate abstractions and creating an engaging mix of referents from popular culture and advanced painting practices while connecting to the ongoing pursuit of psychedelic experience in visual form.

Hammer Projects is a series of exhibitions focusing primarily on the work of emerging artists. 

Hammer Projects is made possible by a major gift from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

Generous support is provided by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy.

Additional support is provided by Good Works Foundation and Laura Donnelley; the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles; the Decade Fund; and the David Teiger Curatorial Travel Fund.

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