Maya Hayuk's Cerebral World

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Don’t call Maya Hayuk a perfectionist. “More like an imperfectionist,” she confesses, her keyboard guffawing each time a lithe finger touches down on a little square letter.

When Hayuk’s slender digits aren’t typing missives to the masses, or updating her comprehensive website, they’re painting psychedelic reflections of everyday life in eye-saturating color. Tempera-bright bongs, neon unicorns, profusely hairy people in hot tubs, and her signature tag–a hot pink donut–are just some of the images that have coated viewers’ visual cortexes in a cotton candy-like haze. Her recent work can be seen in ads for Absolut Raspberri, at art shows around the world, and on the barns of the American Northeast (she’s part of The Barnstormers collective).

But Hayuk–who comes to Brooklyn by way of Baltimore, then San Francisco–is not just handy with a brush. She’s also become known for her portraiture and photo essays; her shots of Dangermouse, El-P, The Faint, and Tracy & The Plastics have appeared in magazines around the globe. She recently curated her first gallery show, Alone In This Together, which rethinks democracy by collecting accessibly priced work from printmakers including Ben Woodward and Clare Rojas; in 2005, the show will be traveling to Austin, Montreal, and Portland, among other locales.

We were hoping Hayuk would make us a mixtape with the likes of Scratch Acid, Wire, and Blue Oyster Cult on it, but she was busy in San Francisco painting a hotel room. Instead, she sent us this window into her world with the disclaimer “It’s 6AM and I’m taking a break from painting, so it may read a little...uh, faded.” No problem.

XLR8R: How did you come up with your signature dripping donut logo?

I was splattering paint around and hit a wall in San Francisco with a can of pink latex paint. As it started to ooze, it looked like icing, so after it dried I added the outline and highlights.

The latest stuff of yours I’ve seen has lots of diamonds...and hairy people. What’s up with that?

My brother Kima sent me The Sims from his work at E.A. and I was fascinated with the crystal monitors of well-being that floated above the characters’ heads. I imagined that somewhere there’s a warehouse with a stockpile of these things sitting idle, waiting to be assigned to truly happy people. Those piles of happiness would then have a crystal happiness orb floating above them and there can even be an orb of happiness above that, and so on. Non-utilized happiness times infinity.

Hairy hairness is just fun to render. It’s really methodical and depending on the patterns, I can create shape and form to flatness. The renderings on skin I think of as grain, like wood, but applied to illustrate the physical traits of flesh as well as to illuminate the inner workings of a human’s character.

You seem to get so much done...What’s your secret?

I feel like I get about one tenth of what I have continuously growing on the back burner. I make piles and lists, hold very strange hours, continuously re-prioritize, and am generally doing several things at once all over different areas of my apartment. My studio’s my living room, which has grown like ivy into my kitchen. I have a separate room that’s my office and photography epicenter. It’s all punctuated with a bedroom void of anything but a bed. It’s pretty perfect and I’ll go for days without seeing the light of day, which I can’t say is exactly healthy.

What did you like to draw when you were little?

Lots and lots of people with too many fingers, princesses in poofy dresses, and tiny villages. Drawing was one of the only “games” I wanted to play with my friends, aside from “dress up,” “school,” “wizards,” and “porno photographer.” Needless to say, I didn’t maintain many friendships and became kind of a hermit.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Try this.”

Do you think of your work in terms of a series or just paint or draw whatever comes to mind?

Both. I paint what I want and it’s the next sentence from the last painting I made. Sometimes the continuity isn’t obvious right away, but it eventually sets in. Each craft and love cross-pollinates and informs the next. A song inspires a drawing, which inspires doing some research, and possibly writing an essay which inspires a photo series (or some combination thereof).

How do you think your punk rock background has influenced you as an artist and a person?

It made me want to truly forge my own freedom, evoke a chosen family, and define terms of “success.” I wasn’t angry enough to listen to hardcore alone at home, but going to shows made me want to document/photograph something so epic, even though everyone talked about how much better it was back in the day. It happens in all realms of culture, always. We wind up romanticizing pasts that we used to begrudge and it makes me want to always remain present. The important thing is that a global voice of dissent found ways to comment on the atrocities of humanity with a kind of utopic vision.

What band or artist was a big inspiration to you growing up?

I’m genetically encoded with the classical music and traditional Ukrainian folk my parents weaned me on. It was Pink Floyd that made me rethink everything I had previously assumed as “truth” or “reality.” My brother turned me on to all this Dungeons and Dragons-y prog rock, which only lead to harder things. He became a Deadhead-gone-raver and I turned into a New Wave/psychedelic head. We came back full circle to appreciating each other’s music when we both got into Can around the same time.

How do you approach your photography? Do you see it as related to your art or separate?

Photography is an art and it very much relates to my other interests, to everything I do. Thomas Campbell has had a huge impact on how I approach the overall vision of being an artist and not compartmentalizing my varying means of expression. I wouldn’t be able to be a painter if I wasn’t also a photographer and vice versa. When I am making a portrait of a musician, I am looking for what is already there in that personality during the quietest moment.

What three albums or songs do you have on heavy rotation right now?

I’ve been obsessively recording my record collection into the computer to make insanely eclectic mixes for trade with other music-obsessed friends, so that’s most of what I listen to. Aside from that, the three records I played today were: Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; Linda Perhacs: Parallelograms; and Prefuse 73: Surrounded By Silence (which has a great Linda Perhacs sample on it, coincidentally)

What were some of the most memorable moments of collaborating with Eva and Scott on the Savath & Savalas artwork and photos?

Getting a chance to just relax with Scott, who’s got this amazing disposition that’s equal parts spaz and tranquil monk. Eva is one of the most beautiful, strong women I have ever met and she would take me exploring through the haze and maze of Barcelona’s old city. Our ideas for the project would evolve out of retarded conversation and drunken binges, which is a great way to collaborate.