Most people who found a cow’s skull half-buried in the ground wouldn’t pick it up, but then Hayley Welsh isn’t most people. On a recent trip to Texas, the WAbased artist stumbled on such a bug-riddled bone and decided it would be perfect to use as a canvas for her pensive artworks.
“It was a lovely texture to work on,” she says, “but it ended up being destroyed when I tried bringing it in to Australia. It had over 15 different species of meat-eating insect in it. Th e quarantine inspector said it was the worst case he’d seen in his 20 years working there.”
Hayley’s forte is painting wide-eyed, storybook creatures on found objects, including, but not limited to, the bones of dead animals, old road signs, bits of metal, and salvaged pieces of furniture.
“I get great pleasure in finding something someone has thrown away,
and breathing new life into it,” the artist says. “In life, no one knows what will come their way, and no one ever gets a beautiful, pure sheet of paper to work with.”
And that’s fi ne for British-born Hayley, who sees beauty in the imperfections of her reclaimed canvases, saying they have helped her create the furry, curious creatures she’s become renowned for.
“My parents tell me I have been drawing wide-eyed characters since I was little, but I think the creatures started appearing more predominately within my work when I first started painting onto wood,” the artist says. “I would look at the knots in the grain and see eyes, and then I would use my paint to bring the creatures out of the grain to the surface. Over time, I started seeing my creatures on everything, from road signs to suitcases.”
The animals appear dreamy, cute and light-hearted, but under the surface, while not always sombre, they evoke darker themes pertinent to the human psyche.
“A lot of my work touches on the idea of ‘self-doubt’ and listening to your ‘inner’ voices and emotions, something that has intrigued me for a long time,” Hayley says. “The little characters within the paintings symbolise the ‘voices’ inside my head – sometimes positive and at other times negative – and while I work, I kind of figure out what these voices mean, and whether I should listen to them or not.”
Hayley says that to create her pieces, she harnesses her childhood memories and how she felt as a child in different situations. “I just try to let my child-like imagination be free, really, and tune into Finding inspiration that feeling of innocence and freedom, and let the creatures come out.”
The things that escape from Hayley’s imagination have tails, horns and ears, and wear hats and other clothes – symbols that produce certain messages or stories.
Often, the artist will alter the typography of the signs or objects she
paints on – like turning a Topshop poster into ‘Stopshopping, you are beautiful’, or changing a No Entry sign to ‘Why Not Entry?’ – leaving behind motivational messages or uplifting mottos.
Recently, Hayley took her dreamy creatures to the US for the School Bus Project, which saw her and her partner Andy Faraday travel across 15 states in a yellow school bus, collecting weird and wonderful objects for Hayley to paint and eventually exhibit in New York. Now back in WA, the artist is spreading her contemplative characters around town, having painted a number of walls for FORM’s PUBLIC art program in Victoria Park, Mount Hawthorn, and even as far away as Port Hedland.
“Public art, painting on walls in particular, seemed like a natural progression with my work,” Hayley says. “I treat the walls like any other surface or found object that I work on, and try to make the best of the surface in front of me.”
She feels that public art has a knack for bringing people together, something she’s noticed while working on her large-scale works. “Street art, I believe, has such a positive eff ect on communities,” she says. “It encourages conversation and inspires people. Th e thought my art might make one person feel better or empowered after a rough day is the best thing in the world, and is ultimately why I do what I do.”