Paula Hayes: Visual artist&Designer

For many New Yorkers, whether they are into art or not, summer is a time to enjoy the art outdoors. The city offers plays, movies, and concerts in a number of parks. People love being together with nature.

Alternatively, you need to be ready to sweat. Some people may think there’s no better place to relax and cool down than indoors with few plants to provide the greenery.

I interviewed artist Paula Hayes who elevated Terrariums to a fine art that merges sculpture assemblage and nature.

Hills Clouds Installation view 1

Hills Clouds Installation view
Photo: Sherry Griffin

She is an American visual artist and designer who works with sculpture, drawing, installation art, botany, and landscape design. A major theme in Hayes’ work is the connection between people and the natural environment. Much of her work is concerned with the care that is required to grow and maintain large and small-scale ecosystems.

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Right:Paula Hayes, Left: her partner Teo Camporeale
Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

Q:  Could you tell me more about the concept and practice of your art? 
I spend most of my time in nature now to connect myself as directly as possible with all of the sensations, vibrations, and signals of nature. I am nature, as are all human beings and I do not want to forget although it's easy to do in the metropolis. I also don’t digitize my work, I form the sculptures with my hands, not computer generated programs. I record and film myself. Playing the part of both myself and my avatar Jill Poet in a series titled Garden Stories.

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Her house and studio in upstate New York
Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

Q: What was the turning point that made you decide to focus on terrariums?
I wanted to find a way to give a “body” to the ephemeral assemblages I was working with, and also merge the horticultural work I was doing with my sculptural assemblages. I thought of handblown glass as that vehicle because of its transparency and its dual quality of fragility and strength. It is also a material and practice that is both ancient and contemporary, industrial and artistic. It was a major turning point for me to find a material and technique to perform the art of horticulture and also the art of arranging/assemblage in a vessel one can peer into the process of maintaining life, in an intimate way.

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Paula Hayes Teardrop Terrarium T26, 2006 Hand-blown glass, miniature living plants, various succulents, colored sand, organic substrate.
Photo: Sherry Griffin

Q: You have done large-scale public and private landscapes as well as terrariums and other living artworks. What are the difficulties you face working on large scale landscapes?

The only difficulty is finding the opportunity that allow me to fully express and practice my art. To create a garden that is in harmony with nature system, with an outcome we can't control into a form that is dictated by monotony. 

I also want to introduce the end of mowing and destroying so much of what is left of the complex ecosystems that exist, to allow complex ecosystems to evolve in balance, to tread upon ecosystems lightly with reverence.

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Paula Hayes Canoes, 2016 Powder coated aluminum and stainless steel, live planting, lighting. Permanent Installation, Seagram Building designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, NYC, NY.
Photo: Stephen Kent Johnson

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Q.:  What is your future perspective and goal as an artist?
I want to save the world. What I mean is being honest with my responses to injustice and taking whatever action I feel I can authentically take, be it a way of gardening, a poetic storytelling approach that has nuggets of philosophy within it, making sculptures that require care and devotion to exist and that is a metaphor for all good relationships, etc.