Determined. Sassy. Unassuming. The words that slowly came to mind when I pushed Hayley Quentin to describe herself in so many words. Now after a studio visit in cyber space and interview for Artisster, I would unhesitatingly add “refreshing” to the mix. She has a passion for showing the other side of things, which is evident in her “Cache” series on the platform. Her reflections on her watercolors presented here somewhat explain her charming unconventionality. To understand this, you have to consider her subject matter: male nudes.
Her paintings are generally sketched and later executed from photograph sessions she produces herself. “I use photos of men I know, some better than others,” says Quentin. She paints men as the objects of sensual beauty, in a compelling way that has often been done in the converse — being, by male painters and female nudes. The poses her models strike are ones that, at first, seem awkward, possibly unnatural, but later reveal themselves as the commonly-seen provocative poses that woman replay in (male-generated) print ads and fashion magazines.
But Quentin’s portraits are different, if not daring: virile arms exposed and bent over head, with a shock of hairs staring out from armpits; perky, pink, flat nipples encircled with fuzz; or another with manly fingertips set upon supple lips poised to kiss. It may not always clear to the audience what they are viewing. Is her portraiture homoeroticism or voyeurism? Does it even have a name? So she works hard at keeping the viewer’s attention. Quentin feels that even though her subjects are shown in ways that may be cliché for women, it’s not always comfortable to see, and equally important for her that the viewer doesn’t look away. Earning the trust of the viewer means harnessing control as an artist. What the viewer sees has a direct link to this control. “In some ways, I create these men into existence,” she says.
Quentin is very aware of the unconventional nature of her male nudes, so intentionally some of the images are somewhat sedate, but there is a lingering sense of provocativeness in each of them. She sees her work as challenging the archetypes of soft beauty and “toxic masculinity” in society. She also sees that some people get very uncomfortable with her subject matter. Some even go as far as to suggest other types of nudes, babies and women for example. However, she sees her body of work as a contribution to equal nude representation–a deliberate subversion of gender roles. Refreshing, indeed.
“Once someone sits for me, his body, his form, [his nakedness] becomes all mine,” Quentin professes. Her models (sometimes personal friends) cease to exist and she creates a new interpretation of him. One of “he” as a sexual being, unclad, vulnerable, and disarmed. And yes, she admittedly sees a bit of objectification in her work. But she upends stereotypical myths that prevail in the art world. She sees her body of work as diaphanous, beautiful and volatile. And Artisster wholeheartedly agrees. She consciously works to create beauty and depth on each surface.
When asked, Hayley reveals to me that a former professor at Otis College of Art and Design once gave her a memorable piece of advice saying that when you’re an artist, nothing will happen for you, so don’t lie down. She pushes herself to “first make work”–do the meaningful and the rest falls in line. And although she spent the last seven years abroad working together on other people’s projects, mainly in the UK and France, she doesn’t see this time as a break from her creative life. Her time spent in London was a necessary process to give her time to strip down and find a way to recommence her own artistic productivity and was a crucial step in becoming the artist she is today. “I wasn’t that productive artistically, at least not for myself. But the accumulation of the impressions I gathered working as a assistant director (in film) on someone else’s vision allowed me to strip down parts of my own,” says Quentin.
What’s the best part about being an artist?
I get to be who I am for a living; it’s who I am. The ideas I have are never really finished with. Also, I really love all aspects of mixing paints.
So who’s been most supportive of your career choice?
When I was younger, it was my parents. They introduced me to many forms of art at an early age. They continue to support my artistic career. More recently, it’s clearly my husband who’s the most supportive.
What’s something you need at hand when you’re working?
My headphones and a hearty feed of Podcasts. I rarely listen to pure music. But since my studio is in a mixed-use building (there’s a church choir just across the hall), I need good headphones to drown out the sounds of people, music and traffic nearby. My Ingelwood studio is in the middle of LA!
What subject matter do you find too difficult to paint?
Any mechanical things and naked woman. I don’t need to rework the glut of female nudes already prevalent. I can contribute in a different way with my works.
Where do you get inspiration outside your studio?
I have worked at several art publishing houses in the UK, so I have a large art book collection. There’s always plenty of new artist’s work featured. I pay a lot of attention to color and composition when I’m thumbing through.
Do you have a different approach to teaching as opposed to how you approach your own work?
I teach at an arts center where people enroll for individual classes. So I am not as critical of their work as I am my own, or as my professors at Otis were of me. I encourage them to stretch. And I enjoy it.
The work on Artisster is primarily from your watercolors. What medium would you like to explore next?
Actually watercolor was an experiment. I started out buying some rather inexpensive color, but the results were so surprising that I pressed on with them.
Artisster’s start up efforts dovetailed with Quentin’s return to Los Angeles and subsequent full-time studio work. “The concept of an online collective especially appealed to me. The mission of the platform fits in line with goals relevant to me as an emerging artist in this digital age. As someone who’s moved from country to country, having a singular space is just what I needed,” she says. She went on to talk about how such platforms dispel potential collector’s fears about buying art and dealing with gallery owners.
We are pleased we found Hayley at the right time in her trajectory as a provocative voice in figurative painting. Watch her Artisster artist video and you’ll hear her saying you can always find her in her Inglewood studio, but if you happen to ring and she’s not there, try the corner coffee shop or Artist & Craftsman Supply, an employee-owned arts supply store in Culver City. She’ll be in the pink section dabbling in watercolors for sure!