Review of Cameron Hayes’ current exhibition – by Evan Maloney

Cameron Hayes  And Mao said let the fish be for the heavens, let the birds be for the earth….2022  oil on linen (triptych)  198 x 405 cm

We are delighted to share Evan Maloney’s in-depth review of Cameron Hayes’ current exhibition with Australian Galleries Melbourne, Mao, Mengele and Martina Navratilova.

Evan Maloney has worked as the Head of Development at Screen Tasmania for the past 10 years and has written about art throughout his career. While living in London in the late 90s he worked as an Arts correspondent for Black + White Magazine, interviewing artists like Tracey Emin and Wolfgang Tillmans. During this time in London he also wrote a novel (Tofu Landing, Quartet Books 2010) that explored Jay Jopling’s influence on the London art scene in the late 90s.

Cameron Hayes found his voice at a young age. In his early twenties he was already creating the kind of broad, highly detailed narratives we see in this exhibition. References to Bruegel and Bosch were and are commonplace. Some of the smaller paintings in this exhibition focus in tighter on a single scene, but the paintings that Hayes is best recognised for such as “And Mao Said…” have a truly epic scale. Each painting contains dozens of active scenes, spread out across the canvas, that speak to different aspects of the painting’s primary themes. Upon first approaching a painting there is a suggestion of chaos, but if you step back and consider the image as a single integrated system, the broad arrangement of scenes within each painting reveal a Renaissance sense of perspective and form: the balance of light and shade, the choice of colour schemes, the strong lines of the various forms linking together and drawing our attention to specific areas of the canvas. In terms of craft and execution they are like the painstaking ordering of a dream where humanity, industry and nature are composed into a single wild and magical physical organism on the canvas. The worlds depicted are not realistic, the landscapes are almost Escher-like in their fabulations, the laws of physics in relation to space are subverted and adhered to at once: the landscape expands like an impossible reality but nothing jars the eye or feels incomplete.

Hayes has always created a kind of stylistic tromp l’oeil with his work. When approaching a painting for the first time they seem to be cute, children’s picture-book style narrative paintings. The kind of painting that little Tommy would love to have hanging on his bedroom wall – a whimsical Where’s Wally filled with curious humanlike characters performing enigmatic scenes. Children do love Hayes’s work, but these paintings are not songs of innocence; they are not cute celebrations of the good will within human nature. They are darkly satirical works that hold a mirror up to the curious weaknesses and foibles that qualify human experience. The stories are witty, but the wit is painful and disturbing.

One might say that in a Hayes painting the question is not whether the glass is half full or half empty; the question is what is in the glass, and the chances are that in these paintings the glass is not filled with a tasty beverage but with something toxic, deposited there by a powerful rascal to trick the naïve or the innocent. Hayes work hurls us down into the darker corners of human experience, always within a broader social context, while using the cushion of wit to make the fall less painful. This has always been the role of the satirist: to give us a laugh while making us feel uncomfortable about the society in which we live. Juvenal and Moliere were not celebrating human good will or compassion, they were exposing the hypocrisies and foibles of Roman and Parisian citizens respectively. But more than this, they were exposing the foibles of human beings in general.‘ – Evan Maloney, 2023


To read the full text, click here.

View Cameron Hayes’ exhibition online here.