When I arrive at Non-Fiction Gallery Wednesday afternoon, it looks more like a studio than a gallery. Bottles of paint and Blick bags stuffed full of supplies dot the floors.
The walls are still blank, save a few works in progress that are taped up with black mounting tape. There’s a futon in the middle of the gallery and a laptop blasting Michael Jackson.
It feels counterintuitive for the gallery to become the studio—I feel like I’ve walked in on installation day—but that’s what Goldfish: A Residency is doing, and that’s why it’s remarkable.
“It’s fun because it gets lonely in your studio sometimes,” Hayes muses. “You’re by yourself and working on whatever you’re working on; you don’t have social feedback or social interaction.”
The huge windows at Non-Fiction are a definite perk—in the first five hours, around twenty people ventured into the gallery to check it out.
“A family tripped over the signboard we had outside, and then read it, and then came in,” Miller laughs.
“I feel like this is going to be a really good spot for the week,” Hayes says, “especially as we develop more, because some people came and walked by and sort of looked in, but it looked semi off-limits.”
In a way, this residency is a performance art piece, Miller explains.
“There’s that whole idea going around of, ‘Well, I could do that.’ And the response is, ‘Well, you didn’t,’” she says. “There’s an entire timeline that’s behind that overly simple piece, and this is kind of bringing that to light. A lot of people argue that performance art is the last true form of art in that you have to physically be there and experience it in order to get the point across, versus images.”
“People approach art from this mysterious place,” Hayes adds.
“People find out you’re an artist and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It’s like you’re a magician, you’re a wizard,” Miller says. “It’s such a weird other. You didn’t sit down and do it and have that thought process or create it, which alienates you as a viewer. Yeah, you didn’t do that, but it didn’t occur to you, so you really don’t think that you can.”
In this context, Goldfish makes art more accessible to the viewer by demystifying the process. Seeing actual people turn blank canvases into artwork can be revelatory to someone who doesn’t create art, which is key in bridging a major dichotomy Savannah suffers.
“Especially in Savannah, I think there’s a disconnect between the art community and the rest of the community because they think it’s kind of uppity,” Miller notes. “It’s dropping that barrier between the creation of art versus the presentation of the art versus the person coming to see the final piece.”
The idea for the residency was dreamed up last December, when Miller approached Hayes about collaborating on a show.
“Our styles meld really nicely, and it was apparent early on we didn’t want just to do artwork on a wall,” Miller recalls. “We were really into the color blue.”
Everything in Goldfish is blue.
Practically, it serves as a limit for the girls so they don’t get “overwhelmed by the sheer possibility,” as Miller notes. Thematically, it cements the girls’ status as a goldfish, stuck in a glass fishbowl, surrounded by blue.
The show itself is replete with themes and meticulous research—six months of planning means that Hayes and Miller had plenty of time to think about their work before ever putting paint to canvas.
“Almost all of my pieces have intricate layers that in my mind go together because they’re things I’ve already thought. Then I’m like, ‘Oh, God, this is a thesis!’” laughs Hayes.
“What do you think that is?” Miller jokes, pointing at writing taped to the walls.
Miller researched the spirituality behind pigment and read literature about the color blue in preparation for her work. A lot of her pieces use the color ultramarine, which was once more expensive than gold. After the Industrial Revolution, artists discovered how to create a synthetic pigment of ultramarine without using lapis lazuli that was just as luminous.
“Now, ultramarine doesn’t have that mystique surrounding it unless it is made from lapis lazuli, but it’s always a color that I’ll look at. It’s the one that just stands out,” Miller lauds.
Hayes was fascinated by haint blue, the light shade of blue that covers old Savannah porches to keep the ghosts out, so she got it color-matched. She uses it as as the background in a series of eight paintings that show Hayes, her sister, and two guys stealing a canoe one summer night.
“I wanted to reference the spirit of a summer night,” she explains. “There’s a spiritual realm of the haint blue that is used to superstitiously create a barricade of energy. And then I was thinking of the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Spirit in the Night.’ So I put those ideas into a series of eight paintings, and they’re stacked like you would have a stack of photographs.”
By the time I’m sitting on their blue futon at Non-Fiction, four of Hayes’ eight paintings are finished, Miller has two paintings tentatively put up, and they’re both working on other projects as well. That’s all in the course of five hours.
“[The wait since January] has been excruciating because normally during that time you’d also be making the work, so we had lightning in a bottle ready to go,” Hayes says.
“We got into the space this morning and were like, whoosh!” Miller laughs.
Better yet, the girls have until Monday to keep working, though Miller notes they’re working faster than expected.
“My boyfriend came in and was like, ‘Are you going to finish all your paintings today?’ I was like, I’m not sure!” laughs Hayes. “I’m not trying to race through it, but at the same time I have a lot of ideas on the back burner.”
“Meanwhile, there’s me over here working on like four things at once,” Miller says. “I’m like, ‘Oh, I have an idea for this!’’
Visitors are welcome to stop by Non-Fiction Gallery now through Monday, June 20 any time between the hours of 10am – 6pm to view Goldfish. Finished pieces will be on display the night of June 20th for the closing reception and artist talk.