Jo Hay - Rabbit Habit

AUGUST 18 – 27, 2016


These new works are all named in honor of extraordinary women.

British figurative painter Jo Hay is widely known for large-scale paintings that explore sexuality, gender, and identity, as in her self-portrait Dodger which placed as a semi-finalist in the 2015 BP Portrait Award. Hay is fascinated by human psychological and biological perception of gender, and her interest in subjects with both male and female characteristics was first inspired by the glittering androgyny of British glam rock musicians in the nineteen-seventies.

RABBIT HABIT marks a departure from these portraits; it showcases new works in a series that Hay has continued to explore since graduate school at the New York Academy of Art. “I initially imagined the rabbit paintings would be purely experimental,” she says of her first examples painted in 2010, calling them a reaction to long hours studying traditional figurative painting. “I very quickly realized that they are equally relevant portraits in themselves.” 

Hay calls the rabbits an exercise in finding new ways to construct figures. They help her to deal purely with form, space, and anatomy, and she closely considers each animal’s personality differences to make every painting unique. Rabbits also have powerful symbolic associations for Hay. “I see traits of the rabbit personality in my own, especially when making paintings. I relate to their alert, edgy energy and the constant vigilance required to always remain nimble enough to get in and out of fluctuating situations.” 

The new portraits in RABBIT HABIT are titled after women who have made extraordinary impressions on the world—game changers, many being the first in their particular field. These paintings come on the heels of recently witnessing the first woman to become a major party’s nominee for the president of the United States. Each composition is based on a traditional, formal portrait pose, often maintaining eye contact with the viewer in a manner both confident and dignified. 
Hay’s dynamic painting style incorporates a range of marks made with different sized brushes and tools, which lends a charged air of activity to her canvases. In her own words, “Presenting a full range of calligraphic difference in painting is like playing with a full orchestra. Imagine hearing a symphony played on a single violin!” The same can be said of her color choices, which are clean mixes. She only uses primary colors and white, maintaining firm control over relationships between hues. The result is an often unexpected meld of shades, where grey and brown rabbits are articulated in swatches and swirls of lavender, moss, peach, and persimmon.  

The portraits in RABBIT HABIT pulse with life. “I have found when painting living creatures that there is an alchemical moment that can occur usually in the middle of the painting,” Hay muses. “It is no longer just a set of particular paint marks but instead the image suddenly feels alive to the point that I experience a quietly disarming sense of it taking a breath.”