Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Donté K. Hayes, a New Jersey-based artist and 2020 MFA honors graduate from the University of Iowa who is currently working as an artist-in-residence at Township 10 in Marshall, North Carolina. Hayes has a background in painting and printmaking. He’s moved towards clay in recent years as a medium for conveying the research and ideas that drive his creative process. His ceramic sculptures range from abstracted vessel forms to totemic, afro-futurist busts that reference the Oba heads of Benin. They are at once familiar and haunting, timely, and timeless. 

National attention for his sculpture brought difficult decisions about where and how to show his work. Prior success making and selling his two-dimensional artwork, combined with clarity about and confidence in his vision, has guided and informed Hayes’s pursuit of gallery representation. He has actively sought a professional dynamic based on trust, relationships, and a mutual understanding of each party’s interests. The wisdom in his words and experience applies to any artist at any career stage. Hayes’s perspective is an important contribution to the topic of navigating the marketplace.

Miles McCreary: I was reading an interview you did with Other People's Pixels. You were talking about your creative journey and making the decision to go back to school for your BFA. What motivated you to go back to school?

Donté K. Hayes: I had gotten divorced and lost everything. I lost the house. Then my mom got sick, so, you know, I had to take care of her too. I couldn't be crying over spilled milk anymore. I just started working a regular job – I was working at Michael’s and Sherman Williams. But before all of that I was doing well – doing a lot of shows, selling my paintings and prints – and I think my friends saw that passion for art and encouraged me to go for it. I felt like I had to start all over, and so, I was like, "You gotta humble yourself." I never got a degree, so I decided to go to school.

Handle. Ceramic, black clay body, 15.5x10x10, 2019. Photo credit: Donté K. Hayes

MM: When you decided on Kennesaw State University, did you know ceramics was something you were interested in studying?