In our series, The Zealous Set, we talk to the artists catching our attention about what they’re creating, watching, reading, and what they’re being inspired by. This week we chat with Hayley Youngs, whose geometric paintings are inspired by Psychedelia, Art Deco, and other Visionary art traditions.

Art Zealous editor Stephanie Zimmerman-Black talks to emerging NYC-based transcendentalist painter Hayley Youngs, whose work balances a charming color palette reminiscent of Miami Vice with the undeniably otherworldly appeal of geomancy.

Hayley Youngs with her work, image courtesy of the artist.

Art Zealous: Can you walk us through your process? How do the shapes and motifs materialize in your work? Is there a significance to how you assign color in your pieces?

Hayley Youngs: I like to start with one large shape — often a circle. I think about it like building a totem-pole. If I start with a circle for example I try to balance the smoothness of that form with something that is complementary but different, like a triangle. A lot of it is trial and error. It feels sort of like assembling a puzzle. It’s the same for the colors, but contrast is usually what guides my decisions. “What will make the blue circle pop… Bright Orange!” It’s all spontaneous. I often think after a day of work that if I were to have started the piece the following day it would look way different. Balance and harmony between the shapes and colors is my main concern and really what I’m looking for at the end of the day. 

AZ: What does a day in the studio with you look like? Do you listen to music, start with a meditation, etc.?

HY: My space doubles as a studio where I also teach art to children, so that means I have to set-up and break-down after every painting session. Just to make sure the space isn’t cluttered and that it’s appropriate for kids when they come in. When I’m ready to start I put on a blue painter’s jumpsuit and blue crocs (blue is my favorite color and the clothes help get me in the painting-mood). I like to read the top news headlines so I’m aware of what’s happening in the world so I can put that all aside, then enter my own world. It helps me feel more comfortable choosing to tune out, especially these days. 

In terms of media consumption during the creative process, that really depends on my mood. It can be anything from super low-brow: putting reality TV on for background noise, to more high-brow — I recently finished listening to an audiobook on the Left Bank art scene. The thing these all seem to have in common is that they provide company, and allow my mind to go into a different gear and use impulse-response to evaluate what I’m painting as I’m doing it. If left to a room without those distractions I’d drive myself crazy questioning every step.

Painting by Hayley Youngs, image courtesy of the artist.

AZ: What connections do you see between the Rorschach test and today’s sociopolitical climate? 

HY: Well, like the Rorschach test, people seem to see what they want to see in our political climate. Aesthetically, Rorschach tests seem chaotic and freewheeling but they  actually have a very controlled symmetry. I look to reflect that balance in my paintings, and it’s certainly something that centers me amid this chaotic political climate. I think it’s awesome that people can see what they want to see in my paintings, and it’s fascinating to hear what people think;  it’s scarier for people to see what they want to see when it comes to politics.

AZ: Tell us more about your inspirations (Art Deco, Psychedelia, Visionary art traditions) – how do you engage with these concepts and how do they come together for you in your work?

HY: When it comes to formal inspiration, Art-Deco style gates and doorways always seem to set something off in me. So when I’m on walks in my neighborhood (Clinton Hill) I always have my camera ready to snap photos of the ones that speak to me. They help to inform the shapes I’m painting. When I’m looking for color inspiration I’ll often look at psychedelic concert posters from the 60s. So I guess my paintings are the result of those two disparate sources coming together. Then of course abstract expressionists like Kandinsky, Hilma af Klint and Miro are huge in my life. I love these two transcendental, Neo-tantric Indian artists named G.R. Santosh and Biren de. François Gilot is something of a role-model for me, both as a woman and as an artist. She’s almost 99 years old and lives in Manhattan, and I swear she is one of the people I’ve thought most about during the Covid-Lockdown. I hope she’s healthy, safe and getting some great work in.  

Hayley Youngs’ work in her studio, image courtesy of the artist.

AZ: What are you reading or binge-watching at the moment?

HY: I’m a total Francophile and will basically consume anything about France, especially when it comes to the creative scenes there. I’ve been binge-watching all Godard, Truffaut and Agnes Varda films. I’m currently reading “She Came to Stay” by Simone de Beauvoir. As I mentioned I just finished an audiobook about Paris’s Left-Bank. But of course, I’m also not above digging into some Real Housewives of NYC and HGTV (House Hunters International has been helping me cope with the fact that I can’t really travel right now so it makes me feel like I’m getting to see cool cities around the world).

AZ: How are you staying connected with other artists and creatives these days?

HY: The lockdown prevented me from taking part in a number of shows which is a bummer.  I was actually supposed to be in the South of France at this very moment for a residency. But like everyone else I’ve been on my phone a lot more lately, so I’ve been trying to make that productive by networking with artists and galleries through Instagram. Say what you will about the platform, but it’s a gift for people who work in a predominantly visual medium. That’s led to a number of online-shows, “window viewings”, appointment-only gallery viewings, some projects in the wearable art space (I made facemasks in collaboration with Paradice Palase), and even some magazine articles. Like everyone else out there I’m just trying to do what I can to continue getting my name out and my work seen. 

Hayley Youngs, “We Met Cranberry Bog” image courtesy of the artist.

AZ: What do you have on the horizon in terms of shows, new works, projects and collaborations, or otherwise?

HY: I’m part of group shows at the Proto Gomez Gallery in Downtown Manhattan, the Satellite Art Club in Brooklyn, and The New Apostle Gallery. I also have an upcoming collaboration with Bravery Co. who will be using my images on scarves to raise money for cancer research. I’ve become a lot more comfortable with my own visual language recently and that’s given me the ability to sit back and observe the way my style is evolving — I’m really excited about the way my new pieces look.

Connect with Hayley Youngs on Instagram @hayleyey or visit her website