A bunch of naked humans crying out in self-pity in a desolate landscape, people moving with their little houses tied to their backs, a man before a table who is down on his luck, Jesus in a car and a bar – British painter Michael Hayter’s body of work is made of up of such dark and funny pieces. Intuitively created, they look childlike in style even though their themes easily remain adult in nature.
Originally trained as a veterinary surgeon (qualifying in 1986), Michael started painting whilst on the course and became increasingly interested in the link between art and mental health. Bouts of depression led him to psychoanalysis, which opened up a whole world of imagery and meaning, feeding his artwork. Later, in the 90s, he studied Fine Art at London Guildhall University and explored other media – mainly sculpture and installation – but continued to paint, despite being told “Didn’t you know? Painting is dead!”
“Throughout my career,” explains the artist, “I have always worked from the inside out. The images I make often start from spontaneous drawing and painting, but can originate from images that have come to me in times of repose or emotional and mental distress. I learned this technique from reading former psychoanalyst (and later a severe critic of psychoanalysis) Alice Miller, whose book The Drama Of Being A Child advocates direct expression of the inner self through ‘spontaneous painting’. This method has allowed me to explore a powerful inner landscape – one in which isolation, anger, fear, abandonment, cruelty, tenderness and, at times, love, create vivid imagery of an almost hallucinatory quality.”
Michael Hayter says he “plunders” art history, from Giotto to Goya, from Bacon to Neo Rauch, for companionship and learning. On his content, he adds: “Finding myself in, and of, Western society and raised in its traditions of Christianity and art, I have inevitably been influenced and moulded by my environment and use this culture in the work that I make. I use these references, such as the image and person of Christ, to explore ideas of what it is to be human, as a crude cipher of one seeking to find himself and his relationship to society and (without wishing to sound grandiose) his relationship to (and with) greater Creation/The Universe.” This opens up the possibility of the figures in the car and the bar being flawed ordinary modern individuals with certain noble traits that match those of Christ. Perhaps they’ve made big sacrifices for the sake of others? Persisted after being unjustly punished?
The artist has a studio at Spike Island Artspace in Bristol and concentrates on painting and drawing, with “the odd sortie into animation”. He has exhibited in the UK, the Netherlands and France, and has works in private collections in the UK, the Netherlands, France and the USA.
Images used with permission.