David Hayes lives in an early-18th-century house on a 57-acre lot in Coventry, his home since 1968. To wander around Hayes' property is to discover Hayes' passion.
On 10 acres of open fields, and scattered in the marshy woods, are hundreds of Hayes' abstract sculptures. Most are black, but some are brightly colored. Many are rusty, some of those designed to be rusty and some as a result of exposure to the elements for years, in some cases decades. Many look as if they were placed outside yesterday.
Others are held in place by many years' growth of weeds. Others, his "screen" series, hang from trees.
Hayes has no favorite. Or, more accurately, each one was his favorite at one time.
"I always have a procession of ideas in my head. They don't all come to fruition. ... I have to do what physicians call triage when deciding what [ideas] get my attention," Hayes, 82, said in a recent interview in his home. "The ones that do are my favorites, for the moment."
To create his work, the internationally known artist takes a sketchpad everywhere. As he goes about his day, he jots down images he finds aesthetically pleasing, not just natural phenomena, but also fleeting, precious moments. "If the sun comes out and casts things in a pattern I like, I immediately make a drawing," he said. "The sun will be done in a heartbeat, but the drawing remains."
Back at the house, he does his "triage," reimagining the images into abstract forms and turning them into preliminary gouache studies and small cardboard maquettes. From that point, the ideas that make the cut are made inside a welding shed next to the driveway, using an acetylene torch on quarter-inch steel plates. After the work is assembled, he takes it into the barn to lay on the paint.
Hayes takes inspiration from his postgraduate mentor, David Smith, a pioneer in working with welded metal. But he goes in his own direction with it, creating gracefully curving, rounded formations abstracted from organic forms he encountered in his daily life.
In his wanderings around the Coventry homestead, Hayes sees his sculpture fields every day. On some days he adds new works to the fields. On other days, when he has an exhibit coming up, he removes items of the fields. Those with chipped, rusted paint get a new coat of Rustoleum. In and out, back and forth, those fields are a life's work. It's been a long and fruitful life.
"Artists don't retire," he said. "I've been complimented. People say 'you're so lucky' because I have enough ideas to last me the rest of my life."
When Hayes checked into St. Francis Hospital in Hartford a few weeks ago, he may have thought he might never lay eyes on his field of dreams again.
Hayes was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2012. At the time it was diagnosed, the disease was in a relatively benign form. It has since "become more insidious," Hayes said.
"He's always been like an ox, flinging steel back and forth. His upper body is solid," said his son and business manager, David M. Hayes Jr., musing on his father's illness. "But artists do tend to work in unhealthy environments, benzine, breathing in fumes."
Then, just as suddenly, his fortunes turned. Less than a week after his family feared for his life, he was sitting up in bed, his hospital bed surrounded by new sketches. "I feel great to be alive," Hayes said at the time.
As always, his sickbed sketches reflected what he saw: lots and lots of hospital windows. "I'm much more responsive to shapes I see in nature, but I was in a hospital and windows were all around me," Hayes said. "That's the series I'm working on now, geometrical, pieces oriented on a geometric pattern."
One week later, Hayes was sent home to Coventry, to the delight of his three sons, his daughter and his wife of 55 years, Julia. He was sent back to the hospital briefly a few days later, after he landed hard falling out of bed and got two black eyes. However, he was quickly sent home again.
Winter was the perfect time for a reunion with his sculptures. "This is my favorite time of the year to see the sculptures, just after a fresh snowfall," the artist said. "You can really see the objects because the foliage and all the rest of that is gone and they really pop out of the landscape."
Hartford To Manchester To Coventry