With Black History Month in full effect, African American alumna, artist, graphic designer and communication specialist for Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Morgan Hayes was selected as the Healing Arts Gallery‘s February Artist of the Month. Her series “Joy” captures the essence of the Black experience.
“When I first had the idea, I was thinking more of pop art and party culture because we were still in the pandemic and I just really wanted it to be fun and like, just get out the house,” Hayes said. “So, it was very different from how it came out to be. It was literally just going to be about going out, the fear of missing out and just partying.”
After realizing she wanted to take a different approach to her artwork series, Hayes chose to capture the joy of being Black.
For many Black artists, creating artwork that depicts the pain of Black people is the norm that society has conformed to, Hayes said. However, she wanted to create artwork that depicts Black love, Black culture and most importantly, Black joy.
“Normally, when we depict our culture, we show struggle, we show financial burden. It is nothing super positive, if I must be honest. And I’m not sure where the idea of that really came about,” Hayes said. “You know, Black pain is like the main thing as a Black artist that you have to depict and to me, my eyes are almost fetishized in the art world, that if you’re a Black artist, you have to paint the Black experience and the Black experience is just pain. And I’m like, ‘I don’t want that,’ because we are more than that. We are just great in every aspect. We are smart, intelligent and, honestly, still till this day, you don’t see that.”
Hayes said the concepts she wanted to include in her series were family, otherworldliness and beauty.
“For the three large pieces that are hanging up, you have the mother and the daughter, father and sons, and then you just have the goddess herself,” said Hayes.
“And with that goddess, she has fruit around her, plants and flowers and those three pieces represent family being bountiful, beautiful and just fruitful — be fruitful and multiply, hence why the center goddess has the oranges and the flowers, because we multiply and we’re beautiful.”
She used the term “otherworldly” to describe the 20-inch by 24-inch art pieces that show Black angels riding a unicorn and another piece that depicts angels eating luxurious food.
Hayes, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Augusta University and is pursuing AU’s Master of Public Administration, said she was nervous but happy to be selected as the artist of the month. Though she was intimidated, she took the opportunity anyway.
“I was happy because really any time as an artist, particularly a Black artist, when you get a chance to showcase your artwork, you have to take it because honestly, it can be rare sometimes,” said Hayes. “So far, one of the challenges that I have faced as a Black artist is actually not having art that represents the stereotypical narrative of that Black pain.”
Art and graphic design are not new to Hayes.
At the age of 9 years old, she became inspired by the movie Titanic.
“When I saw Jack draw Rose with a charcoal pencil and I literally told my mom, I’m like, ‘Hey, I want that,’ and for Christmas, she got me charcoal and the notepad and literally ever since then, I just dream and I’m like, ‘You know, I could do this forever. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind getting a job in this,’” Hayes said.
Hayes also had the opportunity in June 2019 to showcase her artwork at her senior exhibition. She said being selected as artist of the month is a full-circle moment.
Hayes said she gets inspiration for her artwork from artists Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Jessica Walsh and Jade Purple Brown. She also enjoys Pinterest and software called artificial intelligence.
“When AI art came along, that changed everything. At first, I was one of those people that absolutely hated it,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Nope, it’s going to take my job. It’s going to ruin how artists create. No one is going to want to buy anything,’ and understandably so, because if you can make it yourself, why not?”
When Hayes realized this software was a helpful tool, she began to use it and appreciate it.
“Once I stopped being mad, I’m like, ‘No, let’s just give it a shot. Let’s just use it as a tool because I have the skills already. I have the creativity. It’s not going to replace me if I just use it as a tool,’” she said. “So, I just combine my knowledge and that tool. Once I did that, it was like a floodgate that opened up.”
Hayes’ go-to aesthetic for her artwork involves bold and bright colors. She said this was one of the ways she differentiated herself from the other Black artists that were in her class when she was in school. She describes her aesthetic as “obnoxiously bold and bright.”
Hayes is working on several new artwork series, with one of them being booked at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts from August until June called “Wonderstruck.” This series will include her bright pop art.
This will be Hayes’ first time creating art that will be sculptural.
“I’m very excited about that because it’s just going to be obnoxious. So, I’m just excited to see the reaction and the story that I’m going to tell because, at the moment, the biggest thing that I’m trying to formulate is the story,” Hayes said. “I really liked the formation of ‘Joy.’”